Genre- Historical fiction
Pachinko follows the life of Kim Sunja, a Korean girl who was forced to leave her motherland and live in Japan as a migrant. It focuses on her journey as she endures life’s hardships and keeps her family afloat. It showcases the fierce grit and determination of a woman.
The series unfolds in an interesting manner as it unravels from two timelines (the 1930s and 1989). We see Sunja as a newborn in one timeline and as the elderly grandmother who watches her grandson trying to make it big in the other timeline. The scenes are manoeuvred in such a way that the scene shifts happen when the characters from both timelines go through a similar situation or emotion. The flashbacks make the viewer stay connected with Sunja who is the main lead.
The cinematography sets the mood to that of the time Japan had colonized Korea and transports the viewer back to the 1930s.
Pachinko starts in 1915 with Sunja’s parents’ life in Korea.
Kim Sunja grows up in Korea on a small islet by the Busan port. Her father brings her up with a lot of love and freedom while doing his best not to expose her to the Japanese authority over them. She grows up as a smart girl who carries out trades and bargains at the fish market and sometimes even helps out the adults in their business. She is brave, strong and fearless. After her father passes away, she and her mother continue to run the boarding inn for travellers. As a teenager, Sunja is smitten by Hansu, a Korean fish broker from Japan. Soon they indulge in a sexual relationship as she is under the assumption that he will marry her.
Koh Hansu, on the other hand, lives among the Japanese in Yokohama Japan. During his youth, Hansu lives with his father who speaks to him about the harsh realities of their life and has high hopes for Hansu. Hansu faced a lot of prejudice as a Korean migrant during his formative years. His intelligence and smartness were wasted on the discriminating society. As an adult, Hansu is powerful but doesn’t have freedom as he is bound to the Yakuza. He knows that love and freedom of thought are a luxury that people like him cant have. Hansu takes an interest in Sunja. He thinks that Sunja is on the same page as him and engages in a relationship with her assuming that she will agree to be his mistress.
The lack of communication in their relationship comes to light when Sunja falls pregnant and Hansu tells her that he can’t marry her. When she learns that she can only be his mistress, Sunja is appalled. This leads to a break in their relationship leaving just resentment between them.
Life takes a turn as Sunja makes a hard choice by accepting the marriage proposal from Baek Issac, a pastor who is heading to Japan. This leads to Sunja uprooting her life to Japan leaving her mother and her old life behind. What happens from there forms the rest of the story.
In a series with just 8 episodes, one sees Sunja grow up from a child to an elderly woman. 3 actresses portray the role at different stages of Sunja’s life and they nail it as the shift between the stages is seamless.
Yu-Na who plays young Sunja has carried the role very well of the curious and lively female lead’s childhood days.
Kim Min-Ha wows the viewer with her laudable performance as teenage and adult Sunja. She brings the character to life by nailing the expressions and body language. She takes up the majority of screen space in the series as most of the life-changing events in Sunja’s life happen during this period. Sunja faces the consequence of her choices head-on. Once she goes to Japan, the harsh reality of her future hits her. Kim Min-ha has done full justice to the role as she plays a daughter, lover, mother and wife.
Youn Yuh-Jung is graceful and elegant as Kim Sun-Ja in the 1989 timeline. She seems calm and composed when faced with situations. As the story unfolds one learns from where and how she developed the steely resolve and detached attitude. Towards the end of the series upon seeing the elderly Sunja, one can’t help but recall how much she has gone through.
The series which is adapted from the bestseller Novel by Min Jin Lee of the same name conveys the same idea with its unique screenplay from a different perspective. Though the series has altered parts of the book, it makes up for it with interesting additions to the storyline that aren’t a part of the book. These additions form the best part of the series making it distinctive in its own way.
For instance, Sunja and Hansu’s relationship was shown in a different light in the series as it had a lot of depth when compared to the novel. In the book, Hansu disappears from Sunja’s life and reappears much later. That is not the case with the series. The pocket watch which was Hansu’s gift to Sunja has a meaningful story behind it as well. Towards the end of the series, Sunja also acknowledges that Hansu’s pocket watch had indeed kept her family alive. These changes make their relationship more meaningful than the one in the novel.
Also, the series dedicates a separate episode to the backstory of Koh Hansu. This adds an extra dimension to the existing story line. The novel portrays him as a cold, narcissistic and ambiguous character.
Lee Min Ho as Koh Hansu has painted a different picture of Hansu in the series. His performance has added a lot of depth and personality to the character. Hansu comes across as a realist, who had a lot of dreams and talent with a promising future ahead of him. His dreams had come crashing down due to an unfortunate turn of events leaving him to live a bitter, unfulfilled life. Though the character is flawed, Hansu’s longing for his own little happy family remained a distant dream when Sunja broke up with him. Hansu as a youth is a total contrast to Hansu as an adult and Lee Min Ho has pulled off both roles effortlessly.
Out of the 4 generations, Sunja and Solomon’s stories were prioritised in the series. Not much is shown about Noa and Mozasu’s life as they grow up in Japan.
Baek Solomon portrayed by Jin Ha forms a crucial part of the story in 1989. He represents the youngest generation of the family. He has a forbidden tragic love in his life too. His family has high hopes for him and he struggles to make it big in his profession.Seeing his life, one can notice that it is not much different from the struggles of the earlier generations. Jin-Ha has portrayed the role well. Hana plays a major role in this timeline as a terminally ill patient.
The series has a stellar performance from the supporting cast as they add essence to the plot.
The series also depicts how a child born out of wedlock was looked upon in society back in those times. Though there is a lot of room for improvement with respect to women’s rights even today, the series shows how far the society has come today in forms of acceptance. It also makes one wonder how Sunja’s life would have proceeded if her husband Baek Issac hadn’t come along. As Sunja’s life unfolds further, one can’t help but wonder what would have happened if she hadn’t chosen to marry him.
The story is told in 3 languages Korean, Japanese and English. This aspect has been put to fullest use as we see the language spoken in the scene depicts which country dominates that location. For instance, though Solomon and his father Mozasu are Korean, they converse with each other in Japanese and not in Korean.
The series is filled with emotive scenes and strong dialogues that leave a lasting impact on the viewer.
Discrimination against migrants is a prominent theme throughout the series. It reiterates that no matter what the timeline, despite the intelligence and talent, being a migrant seems enough of a reason to be denied their dues.
The last two episodes are noteworthy as they take the series to a whole different level.
The series is comparatively on a lighter note than the novel but no less in leaving an impact on the viewer. Pachinko is one of the best screenplay adaptations from a novel. The series finale ends with real-life interviews of the Korean migrants who still live in Japan today, which reiterates that Pachinko is just one among numerous stories of migrants out there.
(Pachinko is expected to return with the 2nd season) .
Image Courtesy- Apple TV+
-By Soul Sword-