With the release of ‘Parasite’ (2019), ‘Minari,’ and ‘Squid Game’ and the emergence of BTS, South Korea has become one of the most prominent entertainment hubs in the world. This has not only led to the development of more content about the country but also garnered an international audience for the said content.
‘Pachinko’ is an epic drama series developed by Apple TV+. It is based on the 2017 namesake novel by Korean-American author Min Jin Lee. It’s a sprawling story told on a grand scale, encompassing three countries and over 70 years. Here is everything you need to know about it. SPOILERS AHEAD.
Where and What Year is Pachinko Set?
‘Pachinko’ begins in 1915, about five years after the start of the historical Japanese occupation of Korea. The show focuses on telling the story of the central protagonist Sunja (Yu-na Jeon as the child, Minha Kim as the teen, and Youn Yuh-jung as the adilt) and her family. The plot is so intrinsically linked to the contemporary time periods that it won’t exist in a vacuum. The hardship and the racism that Sunja and her loved one endure is very unique to their circumstances.
Sunja spends the early part of her life in a fishing village on a tiny island, located in Yeongdo District, Busan. Her parents run a boarding house. While the occupation has caused a massive financial disaster in the country, leaving millions penniless, Sunja’s family has managed to maintain some stability in their lives. Their biggest challenge yet comes when Sunja’s father, Hoonie, dies of tuberculosis. However, Sunja and her mother persevere.
The narrative shifts back and forth between various time periods. If 1915 marks the beginning of the show’s timeline — at least for now — then 1989 marks the end. In 1989, Sunja’s grandson, Solomon, works for a company in New York. After being denied a promotion he evidently deserves, he makes a deal with the management. He offers to close a deal in Tokyo for an important client for the company. If he succeeds, he will get the promotion. He subsequently returns to Japan.
Sunja now lives in Osaka, where her son and Solomon’s father, Mozasu, runs a pachinko parlor. Solomon travels back and forth between Osaka and the Japanese capital. He meets the elderly landowner whose property he needs to acquire. He believes that the job will be easier for him as she is also a Korean living in Japan.
The complex multi-generational narrative depicts a family’s struggle and its eventual success. As mentioned above, the show is based on Min Jin Lee’s novel, so we have a general idea about which way the plot is heading. A significant part of the show is bound to revolve around a young Sunja’s experience in Osaka during World War II, the bombings, the occupation of Japan by the Allied forces, and the subsequent years. She has encountered racism in her native land. It will be much worse in Osaka. Even in 1989, Solomon has to endure similar ugliness. Although racism towards the Koreans has become much more subtle by the late 1980s, the show depicts that it’s still very much present in Japanese society.