The Chinese remake of a hit Japanese television series set in an overnight diner has failed to sate Chinese viewers, many of whom complain that the show lacks local flavor.
“Shinya Shokudo,” popularly known as “Midnight Diner,” has been viewed by millions in China, with its past three seasons enjoying positive reviews on Douban, a Chinese film and TV website similar to IMDb. Its first season, for example, garnered an aggregate 9.2 points out of 10. But when the Chinese version premiered on Monday, it proved disappointing for many fans, who have rated it a dismal 2.3, just 0.2 points shy of Douban’s lowest score for any TV series.
“When I watched the trailer, my heart seized up,” Shi Zhuoqi, a 25-year-old fan of the Japanese version, told Sixth Tone. “I didn’t expect it to be successful because it used the original settings and costumes, which mean nothing in China.”
Adapted from a popular manga series, the original “Midnight Diner” is set in a small Tokyo restaurant that caters to its patrons’ dietary needs while warming their hearts. The ambience and the characters in the remake, too, are rife with Japanese influence — and that’s precisely the problem for dedicated viewers like Shi, who lament that the Chinese version isn’t Chinese enough.
For one, they argue that “Shenye Shitang” — the show’s Chinese name — should not be set in an izakaya, a small Japanese eatery, and that the chef should not wear a kimono, as his doppelganger in the Japanese version does.
The show’s Taiwanese director, Tsai Yueh-hsun, said it was the manga copyright owner’s decision to retain the Japanese characteristics. But during a press conference in Beijing last week, Tsai also argued that the Chinese version does in fact include local cultural elements among its 12 new storylines.
“China has such a robust culture around late-night food that every province could come out with its own variation of ‘Midnight Diner,’” Shi said.
Lately, Chinese production companies have been taking advantage of the established fan bases of Japanese TV shows, movies, and manga comics, especially in light of recent tensions with South Korea, whose products have been boycotted by some Chinese. In the past year alone, at least six remakes of Japanese originals have debuted in China, but few capture the charms of the shows and movies they are supposed to emulate, and most have fallen flat with critics and viewers alike.
In addition to the dearth of Chinese characteristics, the “Midnight Diner” remake has also drawn criticism for excessive, conspicuous product placement and bad acting from its all-star cast. In the first two episodes, a woman and her two friends arrive at the restaurant, but the camera seems more interested in a name-brand bowl of instant noodles. “Why bother inserting a plot into a TV commercial?” read a tongue-in-cheek review on Douban.
Meanwhile, disappointed fans have proffered solutions for how to make the Chinese version more appealing, playing the part of amateur screenwriters and sharing their own experiences at roadside food stalls. One post on microblog platform Weibo calling for Chinese cuisine that could be featured on the show has received over 10,000 comments suggesting everything from barbecue skewers served with beer to northeastern dumplings to Lanzhou’s famous beef noodles. Some netizens have even contributed stories of their own experiences at Chinese eateries.
“Some lovers trying to decide whether they want another bowl of noodles; someone complaining to a classmate about a boss; someone boasting to his friend about his connections to an influential person; someone having their last meal before bidding farewell to the city,” wrote one Weibo user, painting the scene of a midnight diner that might resonate more with a Chinese audience.
Editors: Bibek Bhandari and David Paulk.
(Header image: A still frame from the Chinese version of the TV drama ‘Midnight Diner.’ IC)