“Pachinko” Episode 1 built the world and the characters in it. It established the hardships in Sunja’s life during the Japanese colonization while consequently following her grandson, Solomon, in the present timeline. Solomon, a Korean who struggled with an identity crisis in Japan, wanted to have the upper hand in a company, which he believed would make him feel superior to his Japanese counterparts.
Episode 1 ended as the journey for both these characters began as they stepped into a new chapter of their lives with their dreams clutched in their hands. While Sunja caught the attention of affluent fish broker Koh Hansu, who would bring romance and the repercussions of it to her life, Solomon arrived in his new office in Tokyo to crack a deal that would steer both his professional and personal life. Hence, let’s follow the tracks of “Pachinko” Episodes 2 and 3, without any further ado.
Episode 2: Recap
Koh Hansu was a reserved man with a mysterious identity, and his impactful looks and righteous management made him a subject of daily discussions among the local fishermen. Every day on a ferry ride, Sunja would hear different stories about Hansu and create an image in her mind of him as an arrogant rich man. Hansu was attracted to Sunja but never gathered enough courage to talk to her, and the two stared at each other from a distance. However, destiny bridged the gaps between the two when Sunja was attacked by a few Japanese boys and Hansu, as usual, saved her life, and the two started meeting every day near a pond in the woods in Yeongdo.
Through their secret meetings, the two lovers got to know each other better. While Sunja was poor and ignorant, Hansu was rich and ambitious. Hansu was born to a poor father, but education helped him come out of poverty and make a name for himself. He lived in Osaka but came back to his hometown only to fill the shallowness in his heart. Hansu was looking for fulfillment and a sense of belonging, but he couldn’t exactly figure it out until he met Sunja. “Pachinko” Episode 2 ended as Sunja showered her trust in Hansu, and finally, they made love in the woods.
In the present timeline, Solomon began his duties in the Tokyo office but soon realized that feelings of xenophobia were still intact among the Japanese, who defied Koreans and questioned their loyalty. Through Tom, Solomon learned more about the Korean woman, Han Geumja, whose family settled in Tokyo after the war. In 1955, Geumja purchased the land in Tokyo for 4,000 yen that the clients of Shiffley’s finances wanted to buy for the foundation of their “Colton Hotel.” Solomon convinced Tom to offer her one billion yen for her piece of land, which would allow her children to live in luxury. However, when Solomon met Geumja, she refused the offer without considering it. What Solomon failed to understand was that Geumja didn’t want to leave a luxury for her children and wanted to live her own dreams and have her own identity in a foreign land, and this piece of land was her identity, which she held closely.
The other parts of Episode 2 followed Solomon’s father, Mozasu Baek, who found his existence in running a pachinko parlor in Osaka and was planning to open another, for which he had also applied for a loan from the bank. However, Mozasu’s ambitions became a reason for his guilty conscience as he used to rig the pachinko machines to earn extra money, thereby playing with people’s fates. Amidst his professional corruption, Mozasu struggles with a personal problem of his own, in which he tries to find Etsuko’s daughter, Hana, who has been missing for a long time. A hired detective informed Mozasu that Hana was last seen eight months ago in Tokyo while she was working at a soapland (falling into the darkness of prostitution). As the parents tried to make peace with his new information, Hana suddenly called Solomon on his office telephone and subtly brought their forbidden romance into the conversation. Hana forbids Solomon from informing her mother about the fact that she contacted him while cutting off the call with the promise to call him again to continue the conversation.
Episode 3: Recap
“Pachinko” Episode 3 begins with a great revelation that shakes down Sunja’s life both in the present and past timeline. In Episode 2, Sunja’s sister-in-law and her salient companion throughout her journey, Kyunghee, died (probably put to death by Sunja), and Sunja prepared for a funeral in the present timeline. In the past, Sunja found out that she was pregnant with Hansu’s child, but he had left for Osaka, and there were rumors that he would never return.
Sunja lived through the days in loneliness as she struggled with a secret that burdened her heart, but suddenly the love of her life showed up. But Hansu didn’t come alone; he brought a storm with him that was going to destroy Sunja’s life forever. As soon as Sunja told Hansu about the child, he quickly desired that it would be a boy. The reason behind Hansu’s odd desire was revealed when Sunja asked him to marry her. Hansu told her about his marriage of convenience, through which he already had 3 daughters. He thought Sunja was aware of his marriage and thus he asked her to be his mistress. Hansu tried to win Sunja with the promise of a big house in Yeongdo and the prospects of a luxurious life. Sunja might be uneducated, but she wasn’t a fool. Being the daughter of an outcast, Sunja always weighed respect and identity over financial gains, and thus she refused Hansu’s offer and revealed to her mother her pregnancy without disclosing the name of the father.
The conversation between Sunja and her mother, Yangjin, was overheard by an ill-lodger named Baek Isak, a Christian minister who roamed throughout the country to spread the word of the lord. Baek was a well-read man who hailed from Pyongyang and settled in Osaka with his brother Yoseb and Yoseb’s wife, Kyunghee. Baek was terminally ill and suffering from tuberculosis that could take his life any day, and in his act of service to humanity, he proposed to Sunja that he give the unborn child his identity so that Sunja wouldn’t have to face the hypocrisy of society. “Pachinko” Episode 3 ended as Sunja nodded to Baek’s proposal and decided to move to Osaka with him to begin a new life in new lands.
After Kyunghee died in the present timeline, Solomon requested his grandmother, Sunja, to come to Tokyo with him to convince Geumja to sell off her lands to the Colton clients. The entire scene with Geumja, Sunja, and Solomon reflects the recurring theme of the series, depicting the hardships of immigrants living in foreign lands who are slowly losing their cultural roots. For Solomon, Geumja’s house was just a roof and some walls, but Sunja, who shifted to a foreign country for her family’s survival, was able to look deeper and understand Geumja’s plight better.
In Geumja’s house, the first thing that Sunja noticed was a textbook. Curiously, she inquired about a grandchild in the house, to which Geumja replied that she was the one who was studying and trying to finish her sixth grade because, in her struggle to raise a family, she never got time to teach herself. Sunja could relate to the fact that, in the past, she wanted to read and learn, but a series of tragedies shifted her focus. The second moving detail in the scene was the food that connected the two unknown people quite familiarly. Sunja served Sunja and Solomon the white rice grown in Korea, and while Solomon failed to notice the difference, it was Sunja who gathered herself for a moment and asked about it. Sunja resonated with Geumja again because, just like her, she came to Osaka with Baek Isak, leaving behind her own country, its food, and its roots. The rice evoked the memories in which she reminisced about the days when she prepared kimchi in her garden with her mother.
At this point in time, Sunja and Solomon are two outsiders in a foreign land, subjected to discrimination. But it was Sunja’s roots and hardships that made her more humane towards people as she tried to understand their reasons humbly, while Solomon, who hadn’t been to Korea (probably), had a wave of anger inside him. His classmates threw ethnic slurs at him, which became a reason for his burning rage to prove to the Japanese that he was better than them. But in all probability, Solomon’s plight was personal and not an inch about Korea or Korean people, as Geumja commented on his non-curiosity about his own country and its cultural values. Narratively, the scene made Sunja remember a fact about Kyunghee, who wanted to return to Korea for one last time before leaving the world, and thus Sunja decided to fulfill the wishes of her late friend and probably hers too.
Sunja requested Solomon to leave Geumja alone and not to worry her anymore for his own personal agenda, and thus with a heavy heart, Solomon returned to his office when suddenly Tom informed him that Geumja’s lawyer called to convey her decision to sell off her land. Solomon felt guilty for using his grandmother to influence Geumja’s decision, but before he could ponder it, his thoughts were shaken by Hana’s call. Hana was coughing badly in the entire conversation that suggested that she might be suffering from a terminal sickness that may take her life, and thus in her last days of survival, she called Solomon to remember the good old days of their secret romance. While Solomon got worried about Hana’s deteriorating health and her whereabouts, Sunja arrived at Mozasu pachinko parlor to tell him about her decision to bury Kyunghee’s ashes in her homeland.
Through these interconnected storylines, Sunja and Solomon would revisit their past lives, probably to make peace with them and give closure at the end of the affair. At some point, Sunja told Solomon that she doesn’t understand why people cling to the past, as it would not bring back death. Maybe, through her journey back to the roots, she will find her answers that sometimes the past worries the living because they fail to give it an appropriate closure as sometimes they are too afraid to face it. But lucky are those who get a chance to make peace with it. The upcoming episode of “Pachinko” will follow the tracks further.