Based on Min Jin Lee’s bestselling novel, Pachinko is a Korean drama on the suffering of Koreans in Japan during the early twentieth century and gives a harrowing tale of immigrant experience. Starring Academy Award winner Youn Yuh-jung and Lee Min-ho, the series is created by Korean-American indie directors named Justin Chon and Kogonada with Soo Hugh working as executive producer. Narrated in two time frames, one in 1910 and the other in 1989, the series is based on Korean culture, kin and identity and the center of attention is a girl named Sunja. Pachinko is low-level gambling prevalent in Japan and most pachinko parlours are owned by Zainichi Koreans i.e. Korean permanent settlers whose population rose during Japan’s occupation of Korea (1910-45). Sunja’s character is initially portrayed by Jeon Yu-na who observes the world while enduring the trauma of prejudice and discrimination during the Japanese colonisation, in her teenage period Sunja is played by Kim Min-ha who perfectly manages to articulate the sensitivity and wisdom, particularly in third episode during a conversation. And finally the older Sunja, played by Yuh-jung, portrays a strong woman and is living with some tough memories of the past.
What sets this eight episode series apart is that it is a shared memory, rather than history, traversing between a multitude of generations in a Korean family in many locations. The other important character is Solomon Baek, played by Jin Ha, who happens to be working in a big firm in New York and returns to his hometown for a land deal. After a long time in America, he reconnects with his father Mozasu and grandmother Sunja. Both Kogonada and Chon have used dancing as an expression, as a matter of fact Solomon dances his frustrations away. Some viewers may find the presence of sex in the show lewd but it must be kept in mind that it is an expression of the characters longings and thoughts and a metaphor for control.
The show depicts a multigeneration story while exploring the subjects of identity, tradition, family and responsibilities, Hugh said The Godfather was a reference. When she first read the novel, she was uncertain with its adaptation into a series as the story has a multitude of locations and periods and it took almost eight months to cast the actors as auditions were not a common practice in Korea. The directors managed to retain the beauty of the film with pleasant locations and character’s ceaseless struggle to protect the future of their loved ones is beautiful. Pachinko epitomizes the tale of a family whose members despite working hard and being successful still has to endure racial prejudice. Another characteristic of Pachinko is that it is one of the few shows in American streaming services which is told in a foreign language and has an all-Asian cast. After Parasite winning the Oscar, a foreign-language show winning a Primetime Emmy award is yet to be seen.