‘Pachinko’ is an epic period drama series that revolves around several generations of the Kim-Baek family. Their story begins in Japanese-occupied Korea in the 1910s and encompasses the next few decades of struggle for independence. When the family moves to Japan, the story moves with them and demonstrates the racism and abject poverty that they endure in their everyday lives. In the season finale, Noa (Jae Jun Park), Sunja’s (Yu-na Jeon as the child, Minha Kim as the teen, and Youn Yuh-jung as the adult) son with Koh Hansu (Lee Min-ho), makes his first appearance. He is an elementary student in 1938. His relatively happy life comes to an abrupt end after Isak, the man he knows as his father, is taken away by Japanese authorities. In 1989, we learn from a conversation between Sunja and Mozasu that something tragic happened to him. Here is everything you need to know about it. SPOILERS AHEAD.
What Happened to Noa?
In 1938, the Kim-Baek family finds some modicum of happiness for themselves, even with World War II brewing on the horizon. They celebrate Mozasu’s first birthday in accordance with Korean traditions. Noa is more attached to Isak than he is to his mother. Like every other Korean immigrant in Japan, the family has its shares of struggles, but they seem to be doing well. However, things come crashing down after Isak is arrested on charges of “unpatriotic” activities and is subsequently taken away. Sunja learns that her husband was involved with a communist outfit. In pursuit of a better life for others, he has left his own family vulnerable. Moreover, Yoseb loses his job after his employer discovers the reason for Isak’s arrest. This prompts Sunja to step outside of her home and set up a Kimchi stall so that she can take care of her children.
‘Pachinko’ is based on the 2017 namesake novel by Korean American author and journalist Min Jin Lee. Noa has an extensive character arc in the book. While the show has taken several creative liberties during the adaptation process, most of them have been with Solomon, who, in 1989, is the latest scion of the family. His future exists beyond the constraints of the timeline of the story, so the writers likely feel that they can approach him with much more freedom.
That isn’t the case with Noa. His character suffers much in the book, and it seems that the show will follow the same route. Koh Hansu finally meets his biological son in one of the last scenes of the season. Although they don’t know it yet, this encounter will have a tremendous effect on their lives.
With Koh Hansu sponsoring his education, Noa attends university. He initially doesn’t know why the older Korean man is helping him. Koh Hansu pretends that he simply wants to help a youth man with a similar background as him. However, Noa eventually discovers that Koh Hansu is part of the yakuza and his biological father. Feeling a deep sense of shame, he disowns his entire family and relocates to Nagano, where he starts working under a racist Japanese pachinko parlor owner. He adopts a false Japanese identity and marries a Japanese woman. They have four children together, but Noa remains unhappy for the next 16 years of his life. Sunja learns about her eldest’s whereabouts from Koh Hansu, who warns her not to visit their son. Disregarding this, Sunja travels to Nagano, and Noa tells his mother that he will keep in touch. But after her departure, he kills himself.
Later in 1989, Sunja gets a much-needed closure when she learns that Noa often came to visit Isak’s grave. While he had distanced himself from the rest of the family, he still cherished the precious moments he made with Isak. Sunja subsequently buries one of Noa’s photos by her husband’s grave.