Now serv­ing se­quel

Mid­nightDiner2 star Kobayashi Kaoru again por­trays The Mas­ter

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - FRONT PAGE - Con­tact the writer at xu­fan@chi­nadaily.com.cn

When Ja­panese di­rec­tor Joji Mat­suoka was asked by some­one if he had watched the Chi­nese TV se­ries Mid­night Diner, the au­di­ence at the Sun­day pre­view of his lat­est film in Bei­jing burst into laugh­ter.

That was be­cause the se­ries is based on a Ja­panese manga work, and Mat­suoka has di­rected two re­lated films and a TV se­ries.

First emerg­ing as Yaro Abe’s pop­u­lar manga work in 2006, the heart-warm­ing sto­ries about a late-night eatery was adapted into a three-sea­son Ja­panese TV se­ries from 2009 to 2014, and also spawned two fea­ture-length movies re­leased in 2015 and 2016. All of them are crit­i­cally ac­claimed.

Mat­suoka was pro­mot­ing the sec­ond fea­ture, Mid­night Diner 2, in Bei­jing ahead of its China pre­miere. And, the Chi­nese se­ries helped the Ja­panese fran­chise to dom­i­nate news in China.

Once among the most an­tic­i­pated TV dra­mas, the Chi­nese se­ries, how­ever, ob­tained 2.7 points out of 10 on pop­u­lar re­view­ing site Douban in June.

Most Chi­nese view­ers com­plained the se­ries was ac­com­pa­nied by too many ad­ver­tise­ments, poor per­for­mances by the ac­tors and ac­tresses and the fail­ure to keep the orig­i­nal work’s in-depth story.

For diehard fans, the newly re­leased Ja­panese se­quel Mid­night Diner 2 is seem­ingly an au­then­tic ef­fort to rem­edy their dis­ap­point­ment with the Chi­nese TV drama.

But for Mat­suoka, the ques­tion about Chi­nese se­ries is a bit chal­leng­ing.

Re­luc­tant to com­ment more on the Chi­nese se­ries, he said at Sun­day’s pre­view it was “touch­ing” to see that TV pro­duc­ers here con­sid­ered it for a re­make.

Sim­i­lar to the first movie’s struc­ture, Mid­night Diner 2 con­sists of three in­de­pen­dent sto­ries — a frus­trated ed­i­tor re­gain­ing her con­fi­dence, a mother’s con­flict with her son who wants to marry a woman 15 years older and an el­derly woman look­ing for her miss­ing son.

The film was shot in the fran­chise’ trade­mark set­ting, an eatery in Tokyo that runs from mid­night to early morn­ing to gather those who take it as a har­bor from the busy me­trop­o­lis.

Hav­ing worked with the fran­chise for eight years, Mat­suoka says it has be­come more dif­fi­cult to se­lect sto­ries from the orig­i­nal comic ma­te­rial for the movie adap­ta­tion.

He says he had to read all the manga books again, with more than 100 sto­ries.

The Ja­panese fran­chise fo­cuses on the low-paid peo­ple who live on the mar­gins of so­ci­ety. The owner of the eatery, known as The Mas­ter, also the only chef at the snack bar, not only fills their stom­ach but also serves as a ther­a­pist lis­ten­ing to their sto­ries of hap­pi­ness and pain.

“That (tune) is what we have stayed with from the be­gin­ning,” says Mat­suoka, the 56-year-old di­rec­tor.

“We didn’t want to shoot rich peo­ple, who are prob­a­bly high­lighted in many mod­ern­themed pro­duc­tions. We pre­fer to ex­plore the tough lives of those who tire­lessly work for a bet­ter fu­ture, and to hail their courage and dili­gence,” he says.

Kobayashi Kaoru, the award-win­ing Ja­panese ac­tor who stars as The Mas­ter, at­tended an­other event in Bei­jing on July 11.

He says the fran­chise has been ap­peal­ing for years, thanks to the story’s sub­tlety as well as its abil­ity to raise mod­ern-day is­sues.

The key to adapt­ing the pop­u­lar manga work to suc­cess­ful screen pro­duc­tions was be­ing faith­ful to the spirit of the comic books, he adds.

“I didn’t ex­pect the fran­chise to be so pop­u­lar in China,” says Kaoru.

As one of the lim­ited im­ports re­leased in July, the low-bud­get Mid­night Diner 2 earned 4.3 mil­lion yuan ($636,500) on Tues­day, tak­ing the fourth spot on China’s box­of­fice charts on its debut.

PHO­TOS PRO­VIDED TO CHINA DAILY

Mid­nightDiner2 re­volves around the hap­pi­ness and sor­row of or­di­nary peo­ple, which is one of the big­gest draws of the fran­chise.

Ja­panese ac­tor Kobayashi Kaoru at­tends an event in Bei­jing on July 11.

The Mas­ter, played by Kobayashi Kaoru, is both a chef and a ther­a­pist.

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