A beautifully shot saga that chronicles one Korean family across multiple generations.
This recap of the Apple TV+ series Pachinko season 1, episode 1 contains spoilers.
Apple TV+ is fast becoming the gold standard for prestige television. Their current output consists of professionally made, fascinating dramas featuring Hollywood actors and respected filmmakers alike. Pachinko is just the latest in a long line of stellar shows from the streaming service, who are now hot on Netflix’s heels, ready to challenge the streaming giants for viewership dominance.
This sprawling drama is based on the New York Times bestseller by Min Jin Lee, following one Korean family across three time periods in three different languages (Korean, Japanese, and English). The premiere is an exceptional introduction to this epic saga.
Pachinko season 1, episode 1 recap
The three time periods are all linked by our main protagonist, Sunja, whose life is chronicled in this series as a child, teen, and elder. The older Sunja is portrayed by Oscar-winning Minari actress Youn Yuh-jung. Sunja grew up in the 1910s, as Japan colonized Korea, with the first episode exploring this hostile invasion. Sunja is an observant youth, one that wishes to help her family to prosper. She learns to fish and befriends a local fisherman. The brutality of the Japanese police and the extreme poverty illustrates a struggling nation. These memories haunt Sunja into old age.
In Sunja’s present, 1989, she is now a wise, old grandmother. The show seamlessly alternates between these two, main timelines in “Chapter One”. The eighties focuses on grandson Solomon Baek, an American-educated banker. This eager businessman is sent to Tokyo to close a deal with a stubborn Korean landowner. The journey allows Solomon a chance to reunite with his family. His father Baek Mozasu owns a Pachinko Parlour (Japanese arcades), where the book’s name originates from. Solomon is wary of his father’s expanding empire. The older Sunja recognizes that Solomon is ashamed of his father, she points this out to him and tells Solomon he would be safer back in America. Clearly, there is something more sinister at play here, simmering below the surface. Episode one only hints at these grievances but demonstrates a history of family conflict, which I am sure we shall uncover in due time.
The show is beautifully shot with a rich color palette, as the cinematography captures some stunning landscape imagery. There are the picturesque coves near Sunja’s home and green forests of the past contrasting with the towering cityscapes of the eighties. Director Kogonada (After Yang) manages to juggle this large ensemble and many moving parts to establish an absorbing opener. It has the feel of Netflix’s Dark: a cultured, foreign import that has complexity and detail across many generations of storylines. Pachinko has depth and heart-wrenching drama to get stuck into over eight installments. “Chapter One” has me hooked.
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