Cover Here are some facts and details you shouldn't miss in ‘Pachinko’ (Photo: Apple TV+)

The television adaptation of Pachinko premieres on March 25 on Apple TV+. The cast and crew shared their thoughts in bringing the show to the screen during an interview with Tatler—here are the reasons why you should watch the series

Apple TV+’s Pachinko, the television adaptation of Min Jin Lee’s 2017 best-selling book premieres on March 25. The series chronicles the hopes and dreams of four generations of a Korean immigrant family, through the eyes of the character Sunja.

Set to be epic in scope and intimate in tone, viewers will follow Sunja’s story through three stages, beginning her birth and then a forbidden love story that unfolds into a sweeping saga through Korea, Japan and America.

Read also: Exclusive: ‘Pachinko’ Stars Lee Min-ho and Kim Min-ha Get Personal About Their Roles

Ahead of the show’s premiere, the cast and crew members tell Tatler how they are bringing the series to the screen. Here are the five of the key takeaways and reasons to watch Pachinko.

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1. It tells a deeply personal story

Pachinko is a story that felt deeply personal to the cast and crew of the show.

Hugh was born in Korea but moved to the US with her parents when she was just a year old. The feeling of “being in two worlds” connected her to the novel and pushed her to adapt it to the screen. It’s also the reason why she felt a deep responsibility to tell this story. “My grandmother knew this world. She lived this,” said Hugh in an interview with Tatler. “Because of that, you feel just this tremendous responsibility not to betray their memories.”

Similarly, for Kang-Lowe, her father owned a chain of video stores and she grew up watching a lot of Korean dramas. “My parents immigrated from South Korea, and I was raised in the US. We spoke Korean at home,” said Kang-Lowe. 

She added that working on the show opened her eyes to her family’s history and connected her to her parents. “I knew about our immediate family but I didn’t know that we had had family who stayed in Japan for longer than I had known,” said Kang-Lowe.

“Korean parents and parents everywhere, when they experienced trauma and suffering, sometimes they don’t want to share that burden with the next generation. But personally, I really wanted to understand my family better. And so my parents did open up.”

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For director Kogonada, the story also felt personal as his father is Korean but raised in Japan, and is “still trying to make sense of his life and own identity.” He said, “This is a story of a family that had to go to another country and establish themselves. There are a lot of us around the world who have parents or grandparents who talk about these stories from a distant land that we know we are both a part of, but not a part of.”

The actors also felt very close to the story. Soji Arai who plays Sunja’s son is the son of second-generation Korean Japanese (zainichi) parents while Kaho Minami who plays Etsuko is born in Japan and is of third-generation Korean descent. Jin Ha who plays Solomon imagined himself as his character if he had pursued the same path and not gone into acting.

“There are a lot of similarities that he and I share in terms of our own family history, our own immigration experience, our own living and growing up in New England, in America as an Asian American or as an Asian person,” said Ha.

Read also: Watch the Trailer for Apple TV+’s ‘Pachinko’ Starring Lee Min-Ho and Youn Yuh-Jung

2. It took time to find the right stars for the roles

Pachinko’s cast is comprised of newcomers and veteran actors which was deliberate. Hugh said casting was a challenge due to the number of roles and it took them six months to find the actors just for the main cast, searching in the US, South Korea, Japan, UK, Australia and other cities. The requirement was simple: “just find the best actors for each role.”

“It didn’t matter if they’ve been in 20 movies or no movies. We really wanted to scour every rock” and that was evident in both newcomer Minha Kim and Academy Award-winning actress Youn Yuh-jung’s casting who play the teenage and older versions of the lead character Sunja respectively. Hugh added that it didn’t matter “if the actresses didn’t look like one another” because they just “had to pick the very best actors for the role.”

Kim is described as “an astonishing young discovery who came out of nowhere to nail her audition and land one of the most coveted roles in recent memory” by the crew members. Kogonada recalled that when Kim auditioned, she was “a no name, no agent pushing for anything. It was just a tape.” Kim was chosen for the titular role out of the “best Korean actors” who auditioned. With Pachinko, Kim is making her on-screen debut, having only acted in one short film prior.

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The crew said they were “lucky” to have cast Youn even before she won the Oscar. “Yuh-jung was a gift to us—a legend, a brilliant actress and an anchor for everything in the show,” said executive producer Michael Ellenberg.

Korean superstar Lee Min-ho said that the role of Hansu is the first in a long time that he had to audition for. “I thought I could learn from being a part of the show. I wanted to reflect on myself for not knowing something I should have,” said Lee.

“There was never any sense of him that was like, ‘Oh, I’m a big enough star to just walk through this.’ He really wanted to understand the character, to represent it and challenge himself,” recalled Kogonada. “He wanted this to be unlike anything he had ever done. He really cared about it.”

Hugh described Lee as one of the hardest workers on the show. “He has this natural gift of knowing how to look at the camera without any vanity. He can emote on screen in a way I haven’t experienced before.”

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3. It pays close attention to detail

Besides the casting, the crew also made sure to pay close attention to period details. One of the most evident is the food, especially white rice. During the occupation of Korea, white rice was unavailable to the local people and was reserved for Japanese officers. Koreans had to survive on cheaper barley rice.

Food is “a spiritual and personal form of communication and love, for every community,” said Ha.

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Another particular detail was including the haenyeo in the show. Haenyo are regional abalone free divers from Busan and the neighbouring island of Jeju. They dive alongside the young Sunja in an emotional sequence that will later be echoed by older Sunja.

This detail shines the light on history that might have been forgotten—there are close to 23,000 haenyeo in the 1960s in Jeju Island alone but today, there are less than 4,300. In some ways, the inclusion of the haenyo is also representative of Sunja as this matriarchal figure that’s the driving force of her family and of the story. Haenyos are mostly women and most of the surviving divers now are in their 60s who are still dedicated to keeping the tradition alive.

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Other than that, meticulous details were given to the wardrobes and set design. The changes in the boarding house design might not be so apparent for western audiences outside of South Korea. “The height of the step that goes into the boarding house implies the wealth of the family inside—the higher the step, the more wealth and stature within the community,” said Hugh.

Production designer Mara LePere-Schloop also recalled that even the dust prop used in the Great Kanto earthquake episode with Lee Min-ho’s Hansu had to be specific. “We sent a lot of dust back and forth between countries,” she said. The aspect ratio also switched to 4:3 to convey the scope of the devastation.

For the wardrobe, equal detail was given especially because it portrayed how the characters changed between time periods. “From hanboks to modern outfits, I wanted to bring out all the details, from the 1910s to the 1980s,” said costume supervisor Kyunghwa Chae.

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4. It shows the power of language

It’s not only the physical details that were important but also in the words spoken. Pachinko is told in three languages: Korean, Japanese and English.

But even so, it’s not just the language but even the dialect. Sunja’s family is from Yeongdo in Busan so she had to speak a different dialect but also one that is reflective of the early 1900s. Solomon’s family lives in Osaka so he had to speak using the dialect too. But when he’s talking to his colleagues in Tokyo, he speaks in another way but it also changes depending on the seniority or the relationship of the person he’s talking to.

The use of colour-coded subtitles makes it easier to show the audience that close attention was given to the language. “When you read the subtitles, it’s translating. The importance of the multiple languages was not just to translate, but in each time they speak in a different language, they are showing a different version of themselves,” said executive producer Michael Ellenberg.

“When he’s speaking English, he’s American, or he might be American. When he’s speaking Japanese, he’s Japanese. When he’s at home speaking Korean, he’s himself. He’s more relaxed with his family. But he’s different in each context. The language is essential to master to be inside the identity of these characters.”

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For Ha, Solomon is “the hardest job [he’s] had so far” but also found it “deeply fulfilling” as someone who loves languages. “There are some sentences where he says a Japanese word but then the rest of it is Korean. It’s incredibly intentional,” said Ha. “[Showrunner] Soo, the writers and the translators really investigated when we would use this word and when it would be Japanese when it would be English because there’s all a story to be told, right?”

Regardless of the challenges it posed, Hugh and the producers all agreed that in order to tell Pachinko’s story, it had to be authentic. “What’s more important to your identity than your own language and to be able to speak your own language?” Ellenberg pointed out. He added that it might feel “unusual” in Hollywood to do this but it’s “becoming more common now”.

Hugh also recalled how there was a language barrier when the cast and crew first got together as they were from all parts of the world. She said, “Our need to connect will transcend language. People who couldn’t speak the same language were communicating and gestures by the end of the shoot and real friendships grew between people.” This is similar to what Pachinko wants to achieve.

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5. It has a universal message that’s relevant today

While the cast and crew talked about how Pachinko is a personal story to them, it’s also essentially a universal one which is why they felt that making and telling this story to the global audience now feels relevant.

Hugh said that six years ago, she couldn’t even imagine a show like Pachinko could be made, “not in the way that it’s intended to be made.” But because of how fast things are changing, particularly the rise of international global content, it felt that the time is right. “More stories like this need to come. If Pachinko was the only one like this, that means something still failed. But when you look at just the work that’s being done now, and how people are no longer afraid of subtitles, that means any story can be told,” said Hugh.

Executive producers Kang-Lowe and Ellenberg too felt that the “audiences are ready for a story like [Pachinko’s].” Kang-Lowe added, “We felt entitled to that story and we felt that it should be made and told in the same way that US companies make Succession or The Crown. We also deserve that.”

Ellenberg also said that it’s also thanks to the rise of Korean content that Pachinko could be made. “We were talking to networks about the promise that this could work for Korea, it could also work for Korean Americans and it could also work for Asian Americans. There’s a following for Korean content all around the world. If you were a network, you could feel that we can make a hit by assembling an audience all across the planet,” he said.

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Kogonada pointed out that Pachinko’s story is the ongoing story of humankind. “There’s power, there’s politics and oppression. And we the people who are living our daily lives are affected by these worlds events in very personal ways.”

“Even though it’s specific to the Korean history, it’s a familiar story. We’re feeling it right now—families who have survived generations are suddenly put in a position again to make new decisions. This is ultimately what our story is about. It’s about resilience and perseverance and sacrifice and the choices that you make, and in the middle of all of this, you may be in love and your heart may be broken,” he added.

For Sawai who plays Naomi, what makes Pachinko’s story universal is the valuable message it gives you, regardless of your background. “This really tells the story of what roots us and going back generations before us and realising, recognising what everyone’s been through to bring us here today and what we can do for future generations,” she said.

For Soo, she coined the phrase “There’s a Sunja in every family” as a way to show that the story is universal. “Every family, whether we recognise her or not, has a Sunja holding up its foundation—that one person who, through blood, sweat and tears, paved the way for a family’s survival. Our series pays tribute to the Sunjas of the world,” she said.

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