Midnight Diner: Tokyo Stories Ep. 9 "Ham Cutlets"

Midnight Diner: Tokyo Stories Ep. 9 "Ham Cutlets"

Ham Cutlets

Ham Cutlets

It was Mr. Nakatsuka, an elderly attorney’s first time visiting the Midnight Diner. He orders ham cutlets and eats them fondly causing other customers to salivate around him. The attorney starts to talk about a childhood memory to the chef of the restaurant, whom everyone calls 'the Master'. The memory is of him playing Othello (premise of the game explained below with a picture) with his little brother, the son of Mr. Nakatsuka’s father’s second wife.

They were only brothers for four years until their parents got divorced. Even though they were not real brothers, Mr. Nakatsuka considers him a real brother and misses the past when he and his younger brother used to play games together in which the loser would have to go out and buy two ham cutlets. Ever since their parents’ divorce, Mr. Nakatsuka has been separated from his brother and has lost track of his whereabouts. 

(Othello is the trading name of a much older board game called Reversi. It can only be played as a 2 player game. Players battle to finish the game with more of their own pieces on the board than their opponent. The game is finished when there are no spaces left on the board or when there are no more possible legal moves for either competitor).

(Othello is the trading name of a much older board game called Reversi. It can only be played as a 2 player game. Players battle to finish the game with more of their own pieces on the board than their opponent. The game is finished when there are no spaces left on the board or when there are no more possible legal moves for either competitor).

One day, Mr. Nakatsuka is in his small law office which he has run for 35 years. He plans to close the business soon because he thinks it is the right time for him to enjoy the rest of his life with freedom as ‘old soldiers just fade away.’ 

While he is reading a newspaper, a headline from the television catches his attention. The government seeks to move forward in demolishing a municipally-owned apartment next month to build an Olympic stadium. However, government officials are trying to convince a resident of the apartment who continues to refuse to negotiate a deal.

Watching the television screen, Mr. Nakatsuka realizes that the  troublesome resident is his younger brother, Mr. Ishibashi. Mr. Ishibashi asserts that he cannot leave the place because of his late mother. The apartment was the last place they stayed together until she passed away. He did not want to lose the place where he could cherish the memory of his mother. 

Mr. Nakatsuka at Midnight Diner Restaurant

Mr. Nakatsuka at Midnight Diner Restaurant

The next day, Mr. Nakatsuka visits the apartment to meet his younger brother. However, he is too intimidated to approach his younger brother. Therefore, Mr. Nakatsuka just turns back home. That night, he goes to the Midnight Diner and shares a watermelon with the Master which he initially bought for his younger brother.

While he is eating, he tells the Master the real reason why he wants to close his office. It is not simply because he has worked too long, but because the number of his clients has declined drastically and more importantly, he has lost his passion to work. He started the office with his wife but he lost her two years ago which made him lethargic to work in the office alone.

Mr. Ishibashi at his apartment

Mr. Ishibashi at his apartment

He also tells the Master the reason why he was intimidated to meet his younger brother. Mr. Nakatsuka always won when he played Othello against his younger brother so Mr. Ishibashi was always the one to buy ham cutlets. However, one day, Mr. Ishibashi ran out of his allowance and extorted money from another classmate to afford ham cutlets. When the school found about it and questioned Mr. Ishibashi, he did not mention a word about the game. Mr. Ishibashi wanted to protect his older brother from being punished. As as result, their father hit Mr. Ishibashi badly that night, but Mr. Nakatsuka did not speak up to defend his brother and just silently watched him being beaten.

Mr. Nakatsuka confesses that he was too afraid of his father and the possibility their father might abandon him just like his real mother did. Because of this event, Mr. Nakatsuka still cannot shake his guilty conscience over his younger brother.

A few days later, Mr. Nakatsuka goes to see his younger brother one more time. This time, he does not turn back and finally meets his younger brother. Mr. Nakatsuka brings him to the Midnight Diner and they eat ham cutlets just like the old days. Mr. Nakatsuka carefully asks his younger brother when he is planning to leave the apartment since it is impossible to stay there without working electricity and gas. Nevertheless, Mr. Ishibashi does not budge and declares that he will not leave the place for any reason.

Resigned, Mr. Nakatsuka changes the topic and takes out the Othello game board that he has kept. He makes a deal for the play – if Mr. Ishibashi wins, Mr. Nakatsuka will buy as many ham cutlets and beer his younger brother wants but if Mr. Nakatsuka wins, Mr. Ishibashi needs to leave the apartment.

In the end, Mr. Ishibashi wins.

Mr. Ishibashi (left) & Mr. Nakatsuka (right)

Mr. Ishibashi (left) & Mr. Nakatsuka (right)

Even though Mr. Nakatsuka lost, he still tries hard to convince his younger brother to leave the apartment and move out to a better place. As expected, Mr. Ishibashi adamantly refuses. But as his big brother relentlessly pushes him, he begins to give up. Soon afterwards, Mr. Nakatsuka makes a negotiation with the government and brings both sides to terms on how to solve the issue. Mr. Ishibashi finally agrees to leave the apartment and live with his big brother.

Overall, the episode demonstrated a deep brotherhood of two old men who have been separated for many decades. Even though they led different types of lives and did not hear of each other for a long time, they did not forget about their earlier years and missed each other. This is an example of the strong bond between family members and more specifically, the bond between true brothers. 

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