I’d heard a lot about Shinya Shokudo and finally had the time to sit down and watch the first season. As expected, it’s excellent and heartwarming, and one can easily see why it has expanded to a season 3. It’s like comfort food that warms your insides on a cold snowy day, and the simplicity of it makes everything even more worth savouring. The short episodes (each is about 25-30 minutes) also make this a breeze to watch – you can easily polish off two or three episodes at a go and won’t even feel time passing by.
J-dramas tend to be more compact, so the storytelling has more impact – a scene can show so many things and imply more others. This is so in the case of Shinya Shokudo, which is adapted from a manga series by Abe Yaro. Each of the 10 short episodes tells a story set in a restaurant in Shinjuku that only opens from midnight to seven the next morning. The owner (Kobayashi Kaoru) is known as Master to his patrons, and he has a basic menu of traditional tonjiru, beer and shochu, but his business model is such that if he has the ingredients, he will make whatever his customers request. There are a few regular patrons, such as the Ochazuke Sisters (who get an episode to themselves), but generally each episode brings about new customers and new stories. As each episode introduces a dish related to the story and customer in question, it also ends with a “one point advice” on the preparation of the dish.
The stories are all about human relations and all have a heartwarming feel, but a few scenes especially tug at one’s heartstrings. For example, there’s a kitty scene towards the end of the second story that got me teary, while the oddball friendship between a stripper and a genteel old lady was particularly moving. I also really liked the episode where a rising starlet falls for a poor university student who delivers newspapers to make ends meet – this kind of love story is not uncommon, but I liked the realistic treatment that neither denigrated the characters nor the love in question. Even the regulars were fun and I liked being able to recognise them as and when they popped up in an episode. The opening theme song, Omoide by Suzuki Tsunekichi, is gorgeous with a dose of melancholia, the sort that touches you at that time of the night.
Master rarely interferes in his customers’ problems, but does offer a word of advice once in a while, and never in a way that makes the other party feel obliged to accept it. I enjoyed the slice of life feel about this drama and liked that not all the stories came with pretty endings because that’s just how life is. Pairing them with food makes it even better. There’s something about food that goes to the core of the human psyche – it’s something everyone needs, and a dish, no matter how simple, always has the power to get to you where it matters most. Being a night owl myself, I also really loved the theme of a midnight restaurant – the world really needs more of these places that open late and close by early morning to cater to a different crowd.
I’ll definitely be catching up on the second and third seasons – it’s rare that J-dramas go to sequels, especially one that doesn’t have an overarching plot and is more slice of life than anything, but it seems the quality of storytelling has been consistent throughout, so that is something that will keep me coming back for more.