In the first three episodes of “Pachinko (2022–ongoing)”, director Kogonada and writers Soo Hugh, Matthew J. McCue, and Hansol Jung paint an emotional portrait of a Korean family’s journey from Korea to Japan by following Sunja (Kim Min-ha) in the 1930s and her grandson Solomon (Jin Ha) in 1989. We see Sunja go through a whirlwind romance with Kohn Hansu (Lee Min-ho), a Zainichi Korean merchant and fish broker, and finds herself in a dark place after knowing that Hansu is a married man and won’t marry her. Jin Ha, who is at a loss trying to close the deal with Han Geumja (Park Hye-Jin) since she doesn’t want to sell her house to a Japanese company, employs Sunja (Youn Yuh-jung) to help him out.
Chapter 3 of “Pachinko” concludes with the arrival of a sick Protestant minister from Pyongyang named Baek Isak (Steve Sanghyun), who is nursed back to normalcy by Sunja and her mother, Yang Jin (Jeong In-Ji). Baek overhears the fact that Sunja is in danger of ostracization from the community because she is pregnant out of wedlock. So, he proposes to Sunja the idea of marrying him and settling in Japan. Meanwhile, Sunja’s teary-eyed conversation with Geumja motivates Geumja to agree to sell her house to Solomon’s firm. In addition to that, eating Korean rice with Geumja and reminiscing about her journey to Japan gives Sunja the push to go back to her hometown because that’s where her heart is.
Major Spoilers Ahead
One Sunja Departs From Korea, One Sunja Departs From Japan
“Pachinko” Episode 4 opens in Busan, 1931, where Kohn Hansu meets Baek Isak for the first time. Earlier, Hansu had seen Isak with Sunja but didn’t approach him for obvious reasons. This time, Hansu technically corners Isak at the tailor’s shop and subtly heckles him about his health and his poverty, because Hansu knows Isak is getting married to Sunja. Hansu tries to one-up him by ordering the tailor to make a new suit for Isak that Hansu will pay for. Isak politely rejects the offer by saying that he can pay for his own suit, which he asks the tailor to make, while also requesting the tailor to stitch his brother’s suit in case it fits Isak’s son. This aggressive moment is followed by Sunja and Isak’s wedding in Yang Jin’s presence. It’s a gorgeously lit, beautifully edited scene where Yang Jin comes to the realization that her daughter has grown up and things are never going to be the same again.
To bid goodbye to Sunja, Yang Jin goes to the market to buy some rice so that she can cook some for her before she leaves. It’s revealed that rice is banned in Korea and only available to the Japanese, for fascist reasons, of course. Yang Jin pleads with the shopkeeper and explains how this will probably be the last time Sunja gets to eat Korean rice. Overwhelmed by Yang Jin’s request, the shopkeeper complies, and Yang Jin cooks it for Sunja, who gets overwhelmed. It’s truly a testament to Justin Chon’s direction, the writing by Soo Hugh, Matthew J. McCue, and Hansol Jung, and the performances by Kim Min-Ha and Jeong In-Ji that they manage to convey such a flurry of emotions without uttering too many words. All of them have so much confidence in the subtext of these actions and in the audience’s ability to interpret them that they allow these scenes to breathe. That’s why they end up being so powerful.
After that, we see Sunja’s friends bickering over the fact that they’re never going to get married because they’ve got no name and no dowry. So, they’ll probably have to marry someone who doesn’t have anything to offer as well. Then we get to witness Jacob Craycroft’s editing as he intercuts between Solomon replacing his old underwear with new ones (as if it’s nothing), Yang Jin packing and repacking Sunja’s clothes (while still coming to terms with the notion that this is the last time she’ll see Sunja), and Sunja packing her bag to go to Korea. Again, it’s an example of efficient visual storytelling to set apart the three generations and the practices that have been maintained and the ones that have been discarded over time.
Setting Up The Stakes For Sunja And Solomon
Before Geumja’s signing of the contract for selling her home, Solomon meets up with Naomi (Anna Sawai). He proclaims that he is aware of the fact that Naomi doesn’t like him for some reason. Naomi says that why does he care who likes him or doesn’t, he is going to go away as soon as the deal is done. To which Solomon says that he is actually not remotely bothered with who is jealous of him and who isn’t, he just wants the deal to be signed. Their conversation is interrupted by Arimoto (Takahiro Inoue), which inspires Naomi to tell Solomon a story about him and how he came to be at Shiffley’s. It begins as a sob story, but Naomi educates Solomon about how a company is family for a salaried man and being disowned by it is worse than being disowned by their flesh and blood. Additionally, Naomi says that one of the reasons why she’s at Shiffley’s, despite it being the graveyard of banks in Japan, is because women can rise when surrounded by those less accomplished by them.
In short, this brief interaction establishes that Solomon still sees the act of acquiring Geumja’s house as a business deal. He doesn’t see the people at Shiffley as humans but as cogs in a wheel that will produce money for him. He is essentially devoid of humanity. So, for him, what’s at stake is the deal. But actually, the deal is the litmus test for Solomon.
Tangentially, we see Sunja taking one last walk through the fish market, a place where she has practically grown up. That’s followed by a violent altercation with Hansu, who curses Sunja for opting to choose a miserable life with Isak instead of being with him. He says that when she’s in Japan, she’ll call out for Hansu, and he won’t respond. He imposes the idea that Sunja still shares a child with him. But Sunja says that that child is hers, not Hansu’s. On her way out of Korea, Sunja gets to extensively bid goodbye to her friends, her tenants, and, of course, her mother. And on the surface, it seems like that’s what she’s about to lose, which is partially true. But more importantly, she is about to lose her identity. Those in Korea know her for who she is. That comes with a sense of security and assurance that’s completely gone when one shifts to a new place. That feeling of isolation is as bad as or worse than not having a roof over one’s head or food in one’s belly.
‘Pachinko’ Episode 4: Ending – Solomon And Sunja Triumphantly Reclaim Their Korean Heritage
The final twenty minutes of “Pachinko” is a visual haymaker that crescendos with both Solomon and Sunja becoming one with their true identity while the struggles of Sunja’s past echo through space and time. In 1989, Geumja enters Shiffley’s, along with her lawyers, to meet the company’s board of directors and Solomon. Apart from Geumja, everyone is pretty stoked because they assume that they have the deal in the bag. Geumja tells everyone to skip the formalities and get straight to business. In 1931, Sunja bids a gut-wrenching goodbye to her mother, who gives Sunja her ancestral ornament, even though she rejects it by saying that she has Hansu’s watch to sell if she ever runs out of money. Before boarding the ship, Sunja has a brief interaction with a famous singer when Sunja hands her back the scarf she had dropped. The singer promises to sing for all of them.
We see Geumja going over the contract one last time. When her lawyer tells her that it’s the same contract that they had seen earlier, she asks him how he knows for sure without checking. The narrative cuts to Sunja and Isak struggling in the crowded ship while the singer takes to the stage after facing some sexual harassment from a Japanese bureaucrat. She begins with a Japanese song. But after a moment of clarity, she switches to Korean, thereby lifting the spirits of Korean refugees aboard and angering the Japanese. Geumja faces a moment of crisis. When she’s coaxed by everyone, including Solomon, to accept the offer, Geumja asks Solomon if his grandmother, i.e., Sunja, was in Geumja’s place, would he ask her to sign on the dotted line? As Solomon contemplates, the sound design and editing make it seem like he’s hearing the song and chanting from Sunja’s ship. And just when the singer stabs herself, probably overwhelmed by the Japanese oppression and harassment, Solomon tells Geumja to not sign.
Content with the realization that there’s still some humanity left in Solomon, Geumja leaves without signing the contract. Solomon faces the wrath of Shiffley. Unfazed, he leaves the office, removing his tie, then his suit, while walking into the rain and coming across a band playing on the street. The show cuts to Sunja and her son, Baek Mozasu (Soji Arai), reaching a rain-drenched Busan. Sunja stops the taxi and walks into the rain, with Mozasu trying desperately to stop her.
Meanwhile, Naomi finds Solomon dancing freely to that band. She leaves him be. Mozasu follows an emotional Sunja as she walks onto the beach, celebrating her return to her homeland. Therefore, in yet another brilliant display of Craycroft’s amazing editing, Chon’s pitch-perfect direction, and the performances from the cast, “Pachinko” establishes a major change in Solomon (as well as Sunja) as they re-identify with their Korean heritage and prioritize that over everything else.