Pachinko: Historical Fiction that keeps it Real


By Mia Donatucci

“We cannot help but be interested in the stories of people that history pushes aside so thoughtlessly.” (Min Jin Lee)

The 2017 New York Times Bestseller and National Book Award Finalist Pachinko by Min Jin Lee made its international debut to the screen on March 25, 2022, on Apple TV Plus. Adapted by acclaimed screenplay writer Soo Hugh and directors Kogonada and Justin Chon, this epic story takes the audience through an adventure of love, family, and endurance. 

Lee’s captivating tale follows a Korean woman named Sunja and the generations that followed her. The narrative stretches from 1910 t0 1989, taking place from the Japanese occupation of Korea to WWII. As a teenager, Sunja (Kim Min-ha) lived a poverty-stricken life in Korea and had to work hard to survive. She would fall in love with a wealthy, fish broker named Koh Hansu (Lee Min-ho) but would discover that he had another family in Japan. Sunja is left with the problem of carrying a child without a father and the condemnation that would follow. 

Luckily, she meets a kind, but sickly pastor named Baek Isak (Steve Sang-Hyun Noh) who offers to marry and move to Japan with her. Sunja would decide to leave her homeland and make a new life for herself in a country that despises Koreans. Her forbearance through the discrimination and hardships she faced makes Sunja such a captivating character and one the audience will want to root for. 

Unlike the books, the series doesn’t follow a consecutive timeline. This is to introduce Sunja as an older woman (Academy Award Winner Youn Yuh-jung) and the story of her grandson Solomon (Jin Ha). The reason for this shift is to present the audience with a younger generation’s tribulations and dealings with stereotypes. 

With it’s captivating story and astounding visuals (acting, cinematography, etc.) it’s no wonder why this series has critics raving. On Rotten Tomatoes, Pachinko scores very high with both critics (98%) and the audience (95%). Not only that, this show is bound to have more seasons to come. 

But what makes this show so special is the amount of truth in Sunja’s life. There have been many immigrant families that have faced great hardship. Most cultures deal with hurtful stereotypes that downcast them into something they aren’t. All these countries have their history that may not be beautiful and can be overshadowed. But they deserve to be heard, and Pachinko manages to do just that.