The unmissable “Pachinko” is a pure and flawless beauty about the unpredictability of life

As the credits of the “Pachinko” finale rolled by, I frantically sifted through the press material to make sure it wasn’t a limited series. Partly it was a matter of proper categorization, but in general, I simply couldn’t accept that these episodes were a one-off deal.

This eight-episode season is close by, delivering satisfaction on a cellular level all by itself. For the same reason, eight episodes are not enough. Every rich moment satisfies, and each one will make you want more.

Assuming it’s picked up for the second season it fully deserves, that craving should eventually be satisfied. But isn’t that something? In these days of too much TV overpopulated with mediocre stories that could play out just as well in half the time, here’s one series you may never want to finish.

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“Pachinko” is a pure and flawless beauty, written by Soo Hugh with enough weight for the story to gently stamp itself into the heart and memory, and portrayed with an uplifting buoyancy that navigates the plot from port to port as part of a voyage. which swirls the past through the present, showing how each lays the foundation for the other.

The direction, divided equally between Justin Chon (“Gook”) and Kogonada, highlights the spirit of all times and the indomitable nature of its travelers. Their images silently capture the dichotomies that pull the edge of its protagonists’ lives.

Here, camera gazes notice a mud stain on a white wedding dress. There, a string of pearls shines amidst the ashes, chaos and death. These visual minutes collaborate with dialogue to evoke greatness in the lives of a family that traces its lineage to a fishing village in Busan, Korea and through the life of a woman named Sunja, tenderly played by Minha Kim as a young man. woman and Oscar winner Yuh-Jung Youn (“Minari”) as an elder.

Functioning like the game, “Pachinko” bounces between the decades, mainly Korea and Japan before World War II, and the 1980s, when Sunja’s American-educated grandson Solomon (Jin Ha) is focused on the closing a career-changing deal at his bank. At that time, his father Mosazu (Soji Arai) offers a comfortable life to Sunja, supported by the pachinko parlors he owns, a legal if not entirely respectable business.

As in the game, it’s very easy to indulge in the unpredictability of where you go from scene to scene, going back and forth throughout the 20th century. The episodes are not built around flashbacks, but timelines that flow in tandem with each other, connected through small choices and interruptions. Hugh rejects the standard broad dramatic wave in these episodes, but still offers us the world through an ocean of moments, each a clarifying drop that allows us to appreciate the ways in which their ancestors travel through generations and across miles. water.

Sunja as an ignorant young woman in 1920s and 1930s Korea could not understand the problems with champagne that her career-driven nephew Solomon deals with. Solomon, in his twenties fighting for his piece of financial glory, has never known a world where a bowl of rice is a luxury.

PachinkoPachinko (Apple TV +)From time to time through “Pachinko”, Sunja’s past and her descendant present align in revealing ways, crossing oceans of time and memory that, in certain moments, Youn physically evokes simply by pausing to allow herself and herself to viewer to sink into the memory of what he experienced that informs his perspective of Solomon’s present.

The common nature of Sunja’s journey makes “Pachinko” absolutely fascinating. Kim’s placid face wears her character’s incomparable resilience; with her gaze and the subdued tone of her voice it conveys more than dialogue alone can tell. In the moments when Chon and Kogonada lock the camera on her while the people around her talk, her silence or a stoic tear running down her cheek are the details that kill the scene.

“It’s not a shame to survive,” someone tells her in a situation that threatens to make her believe otherwise. Consistently and with a sure-footed step, Kim’s performance realizes this wisdom for us.

Youn’s Sunja completes this performance, showing her on the other side of a mountain of triumphs and sorrows that her young version has yet to travel, and only some of which we see in these hours. Hugh’s script makes the most of Youn’s talent for finding Sunja’s malleability in difficult times, giving her the way of a matriarch who refuses to apologize for past circumstances, choosing instead to be heard, understood and respected.

Sunja comes to terms with the long range of this fanaticism and classism in her youth, first spending a Korea colonized by Japan before migrating to Osaka, where Koreans are treated as second-class citizens. Lee Minho’s Hansu, a charismatic bureaucrat whom Sunja first meets in her village, wakes her up to the possibilities of the world and her potential cruelties. But Sunja also has luck in relationships with people like Steve Sanghyun Noh’s Isak and Eunchae Jung’s Kyunghee, whose kindness avoids any urge she might have to slip into cynicism.


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Some of the situations Sunja and her community find themselves in or the expectations imposed on her seem similar to my family’s various personal stories. I suspect this is why so many have linked to the 2017 Min Jin Lee novel the story is based on; Sunja’s story and Solomon’s modern frustrations follow live trajectories similar to those of most people.

Colonialism is common enough for many non-white viewers to relate to Sunja’s life, but it is equally crucial for “Pachinko” to receive recognition for his heartfelt vision of a story Western cultures are only familiar with from their own point of view. .

This is a distinct story about an Asian family moving across three cultures, speaking Korean, Japanese and English (clearly translated via color-coded subtitles) while conveying their experience of discrimination, overcoming and community. It is also a story with many characters whose stories are just starting to be told. Mosazu is introduced, but much of his life with Sunja has not been explored.

PachinkoPachinko (Apple TV +)Another major character gets a full episode dedicated to their origin story later in the season, teasing their continued importance over the broader arc of the series. In smaller shows their relative lack of development would be a plague. Here, I’m among a long list of reasons why this drama deserves a future.

The refrain of the narrative reminds us of all the ways in which living is a gamble and, like pachinko itself, each outcome is completely unpredictable.

This brings us the show’s most wonderful constant: a vivid opening title sequence (seen below) set on The Grass Roots’ “Let’s Live For Today”, in which each of the main characters frantically dances within a polychrome show of pachinko parlor, wearing clothes from their era. There is no clear sense of when this place exists, only that it is where this family has won their fortune – mainly by persevering, of course, but also by holding steady a will strengthened by a woman’s lasting love.

The first three episodes of “Pachinko” are now available on Apple TV + with new episodes premiering on Fridays. Check out the opening credits below, via YouTube.

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