In war, we lose it all. Our home, our roots, our families, and most importantly, our identity. For many Asian countries, preserving one’s culture is a way to preserve one’s roots and to remind the generations to come of the hardships our ancestors went through to bring us into this world. Culture is not just some rituals or customs; it is a story about human endurance. And maybe that is why the Apple Series “Pachinko” stresses the word “endurance” so much. It subtly reminds us of the importance of our past and the history that connects us all, because, without these memories, we are nothing but flesh and bone.
Based on Min Jin Lee’s historical fiction novel, “Pachinko” majorly follows the life of one Korean woman who has endured it all. Sunja lived through the Japanese colonization of Korea, survived the miseries of the First and Second World Wars, and last, but not least, she endured the hardships of keeping her family afloat in foreign lands.
“Pachinko,” like the roots of “Minari,” seeps into different characters who have their own means of dealing with the past and the present, family and relationships, war and xenophobia, but despite everything, the theme of “endurance” stays strong. In any kind of narrative, the recurring theme tries to convey its creator’s message, which, in this case, is how our cultural values connect us through our roots, even if we are not physically present there. An outsider in a foreign country still follows the traditions, sometimes not to make anyone uncomfortable but to remind himself of his home and his family, without which he or she would become a loosened kite lost in oblivion. Nevertheless, let’s follow the journey of Sunja in the first episode of “Pachinko” that are spread over two timelines, 1910 Busan and 1989 Japan.
Sunja: The Birth Of An Outcast
In 1910, the Japanese Emperor colonized Korea and made it a part of his growing empire, as a result of which many Koreans lost their lives and fled to foreign lands, while others endured the colonization. “Pachinko” Episode 1 begins in 1915, following the story of Yangjin (Inji Jeong), who lives on Yeongdo, a little fishing island near Busan. Yangjin was the daughter of a farmer who lost his livelihood amidst the war and thus married her daughter to Hoonie, an outcast of the community.
Hoonie was born with a cleft lip and was crippled in one foot, because of which no one wanted to marry him. However, he belonged to a family of fishermen who ran a small boarding house in Dongsam, and thus Yangjin’s parents married her to Hoonie. In the three years of their marriage, Yangjin bore three sons, but none of them survived, which made her believe that there was a curse on her blood. She came to see a village seer who prophesied that she would bring a girl into this world who would not only survive, but through her, a family would endure.
Yangjin gave birth to Sunja, who witnessed the tyranny of war and endured the hardships of Japanese colonization. When Sunja was just a preteen, she sparked an unlikely friendship with a fisherman named Mr. Kim. However, Sunja’s parents were skeptical of Mr. Kim’s revolutionary ideas and didn’t want to draw unwanted attention to themselves, so Sunja innocently requested that Mr. Kim leave them alone. The very next day, Mr. Kim was arrested by the Japanese officers, but the memory left a lasting impact on Sunja. Soon after, she lost her father to tuberculosis. Yangjin became a widow but single-handedly looked after both Sunja and their small boarding house. Nine years later, Sunja traveled to Busan on a ferry boat each day to buy food for the lodge, and on a special day, she caught the eye of a wealthy fish broker, Koh Hansu (Lee Min-Ho). “Pachinko” Episode 1 ended with the hint of a passionate romance between Sunja and Hansu.
Solomon: Finding Roots In A Foreign Land
In the present time, “Pachinko” Episode 1 follows Sunja’s grandson, Solomon Baek (Jin Ha), who works as an associate for a financial corporation named Shiffley’s in New York City. Solomon’s father, Mozasu Baek (Soji Arai), runs a pachinko parlor and lives with his lover, Etsuko (Kaho Minami), and his mother, Sunja (Youn Yuh-jung), in Osaka. In America, Solomon hustled to rise up the ranks and get a promotion, but the authorities on the 43rd floor believed that he needed one more year to become worthy of it. When Solomon saw his dreams fleeting away in front of him, he quickly brought in a deal in the meeting that was centered around the “Colton Hotel.” The client wanted to construct a hotel on a piece of land, but the landowner, an elderly Korean woman, named Han Geumja, refused to sell it. Solomon assured his seniors that he would convince Geumja, and in exchange, he demanded a transfer to Japan and a VP title along with the bonus. And with the dream of owning the Japanese in his own way, Solomon returned to Japan.
In Japan, Solomon visited his family in Osaka and went down the memory lane, remembering his past lover, Hana, who was Etsuko’s daughter from another man. Soon after Solomon left for America, Hana disappeared, but Etsuko and Mozasu didn’t give up on her and kept hiring new detectives to find her. Soon, Solomon joined his new office in Tokyo and met his boss, Tom Andrews (Jimmi Simpson), who briefed him about the deal while the death of the Japanese emperor, Shōwa, aslo known as Hirohito, hit the screen.
Hirohito’s death is a symbolic thread that joins the two timelines through his 87 years of life. He saw the colonization of Korea and the modernization of Japan. In modern times, numerous Zainichi Koreans who fled to Japan due to war still struggle with their identity and face discrimination daily with something as simple as a question about their loyalty and “blood type.”
“Pachinko” Episode 1 majorly established the conflict of both prominent characters, Sunja and Solomon, who, in their individual timelines, face similar discrimination and a situation that also suggestively hints that we may have added numbers to the calendars, but the ideology of hatred still persists among us. The virtues of modernization have made our lives better but also separated us from our core cultural and family values. How these two characters will tackle their internal and external conflicts will be further explored in upcoming episodes that will help them transform and make peace with their past.