[Apple TV+] Pachinko: a masterpiece!

The ambitious adaptation by a team clearly devoted body and soul to the project of Pachinko, adaptation of a Korean novel narrating the ordeals experienced in the 20th century by Korean emigrants in a hostile and racist Japan, turns out to be an absolute success. Not to be missed.

Kim Min-ha and Lee Min-ho – Copyright: Apple TV+

“Pachinko” is of course a Japanese slot machine, on which the player can influence a bit like a pinball machine. The height of the popularity of these machines in Japan was in the 1980s, before the country’s economy collapsed in a terrible recession caused in particular by a real estate bubble. But Pachinko, it is also and above all – for what interests us here – a famous Korean novel, which retraces the journey of a young Korean, Sunja, poor and illiterate, forced into exile in Japan in the early 1930s, as well as that of his family, and this until the 90s (his family then owned a pachinko room, hence the title…). And today, Pachinkoit is one of the biggest “prestige” series on the Apple TV+ platform, an American-Korean co-production shot partially in Canada, and adapting the novel by Lee Min Jin.

pachinko s1 posterWhat is interesting, and at least partially explains the undeniable success of this series, which already seems destined to appear on the podium of the greatest contemporary television series, is that the producer and screenwriter Soo Hugh to the two directors Justin Chon and Kogonada – an aficionado ofOzu, which matters here – including the screenwriters, almost everyone is of Korean descent. The subject of Pachinko is the description – empathetic, even often very emotional (it is difficult to hold back tears in front of most of the eight episodes of this first season) while avoiding melodrama -, of the hardships experienced by Korean emigrants in Japan: we can therefore think that the feeling of accuracy, of depth that the series gives off is not unrelated to the strong emotional involvement of the entire team at work…

The story of Pachinko still very readably interweaves several temporalities, but it is the two main narratives that are its strong points: on the one hand, Solomon’s existential and identity crisis (Jinhaalready seen in Devs), a young financial executive well integrated into Japanese society in the 1980s, who was confronted, during a difficult negotiation relating to the expropriation of an old Korean lady at the heart of a real estate project, with her origins , carefully repressed to guarantee his professional success; on the other, the hard life of young Sunja (Kim Minhaa beginner with remarkable charisma, which we will inevitably hear about again)… Both in her native country crushed under the Japanese boot and then in Osaka, where with her pastor husband she has to face the hatred and racism of the Japanese, exacerbated by the accession to power of the fascists who will lead the country to the disaster of the Second World War, Sunja, tragic heroine, will demonstrate a formidable intelligence and a galvanizing strength of character…

…And there’s, on top of that, that terrible seventh episode, which vividly recounts the cataclysmic Yokohama earthquake of 1923, from the perspective of one of the show’s least likable characters, Hansu (and c It is a great intuition to give it a depth that the “bad guys” often lack in Western fiction): here again, Korean immigrants will bear the brunt of the disaster, designated to popular condemnation as profiteers of precariousness survivors, and criminal looters…

Pachinko looks more like “real cinema” than a traditional series, and the means used, the classicism of a production that is clearly more “Japanese” than “Korean” (if we trust the respective stereotypes of these two great cinematographies…) and the screenplay form have a lot to do with it. But the breadth of the story told, the way in which historical, social and political considerations are mixed with the most poignant human dramas, also clearly benefit from the “long form” of the TV series…

At the end of this first season, which ends not without audacity by inserting in the conclusion of the last episode interviews with old Korean ladies who lived the events narrated in Pachinko, we can only say to ourselves, dazzled, that we are witnessing the perfect fusion of the cinematographic form with the television form, all in the service of a great story. The result is a masterpiece.

Eric Debarnot

Pachinko
TV series by Soo Hugh (USA – Canada – South Korea co-production)
With: Kim Min-Ha, Jin Ha, Lee Min-Ho, Youn Yuh-Jung, Soji Arai, Kaho Mina…
Genre: Drama, Historical
8 episodes of 55 minutes, posted online (Apple TV+) from March to April 2022

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