Madness once sang, “I’m as honest as the day is long / The longer the daylight, the less I do wrong.” Any resident of a famous city will tell you that their beloved metropolis is a totally different world at night. The day brings work and casual commerce. The night is when people come alive.
Midnight Asia dives into Tokyo (Midnight Diner: Tokyo Stories), Seoul, Mumbai, Taipei, Bangkok, and Manila to see what unique factors make their nightlives thrive. The tagline of the series – Eat, Dance, Dream – gives away that despite cultural differences, when the black curtain of night is pulled over a city most people seek out food, fun, or fantasy.
Swooping aerial shots glide over skyscrapers and bustling streets whilst title cards pronounce the areas about to be covered. Each episode will usually have a blend of mouth watering food, some successful business, and a smattering of more esoteric inhabitants and their habits.
Tokyo houses performances from 85-year-old Sumiko Iwamuro, aka DJ Sumirock. The ‘world’s oldest DJ’ gets plenty of screen time to talk about her late-blooming love of music, combined with a day job of running a restaurant.
Rogerio Igarashi Vaz discusses his popular cocktail bar and the art of Omotenashia, a Japanese concept for perfectly balanced hospitality (not too distant, not too familiar).
And then we slide into a visit to Department H: a leather and latex fetish club because, well, why not? Despite a lack of anything too filthy or salacious, you may need to blink away some of what the club’s attendees have to show you.
Japanese people work very hard in socially strict settings and the night, Midnight Asia tells us, is an excuse to blow off some much needed steam.
Is Midnight Asia Worth Watching?
Similar pressure valves include the Mumbai rap and hip-hop scene, Taipei drag performances, a burgeoning Seoul rock band that incorporates traditional (and distinctive) folk vocals, and oh so much utterly delicious looking food. Just looking at the amount of butter and oil on screen made me gain weight!
The side effect generated by celebrating the supposedly localised idiosyncrasies of each location is that taken as a whole, places don’t seem that different.
Regardless, being led into the nooks and crannies of urban nocturnal behaviour is comfortable travel TV at its finest.
Midnight Asia picks a tone and doesn’t deviate. Everything is shot with gorgeous warmth and generosity (there is minimal voiceover or interruption) and you’d almost believe that wandering around at night is a carefree experience free of any danger or concern.
This isn’t a documentary, it’s a dream. Tune in when in the mood to drift away, carefree.
Words by Mike Record