When Apple TV Plus launched in fall 2019, it promised to bring unique and powerful content from “the world’s greatest storytellers”. But over the past two years, the platform’s idea of what constitutes “the world” seems to have been limited to two non-English originals and three international co-productions. None were particularly noteworthy.
Finally, with Pachinko, Apple TV Plus delivered a series that was both global in scope and the most captivating yet. Adapted from the best-selling novel by Min Jin Lee, the new eight-part Korean family saga retains its literary texture. The detail is rich, the pacing deliberate, the characters complex, and the scenes are shot with a stillness that allows us to capture their beauty.
Substance accompanies style. Pachinko chronicles a family’s 70-year journey from a fishing town in Korea to a skyscraper in 1980s New York. Within this arc are several separate but intertwined narratives that take into account the brutal Japanese occupation of Korea in the early 20th century, the erosion of identity experienced by first-generation migrants, and the repercussions of history and traumas across eras and continents.
With the past so deeply felt in the present, the seven-decade-separated scenes follow each other easily. The central character Sunja (who connects the four generations) exists simultaneously in this narrative setting as a resilient and strong-minded young woman (Minha Kim) and a like-minded old woman (minariby Oscar Youn Yuh-jung). The back-and-forth structure can be a little disorienting at first, but it highlights how much has changed, and often hasn’t.
The first three episodes introduce two timelines. One focuses on Junja’s formative years under the shadow of colonial subjugation and her first two loves – her doting father and later new fish market manager Koh Hansu (Lee Min-ho ), a Gatsby-esque figure who rose from poverty to benefit from Japanese rule.
The second storyline involves Junja’s grandson, Solomon (Jin Ha), an Americanized businessman who returns to Japan in order to land a lucrative real estate development deal. Having spent his entire life as an outsider in the United States and Japan due to his Korean heritage, he finds solace in the stateless language of finance.
An element of mystery is teased in a subplot involving the disappearance of a daughter from Solomon’s teenage years, but the true weight of Pachinko resides in its quietest moments. A Proustian scene in which a bowl of coarse Korean rice forces elder Sunja to reckon with all she left behind tells quite a story in a remarkable few minutes.
Episodes 1-3 on Apple TV Plus from March 25; new episodes released every week thereafter
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