Although many of us are familiar with the story of immigrants moving to the United States of America, a topic which hasn’t been explored as much in American media are the stories of immigrants between international countries. Created by Soo Hugh and directed by Kogonada and Justin Chon, the television series adaptation of Min Jin Lee’s highly acclaimed novel “Pachinko” examines the topic of immigration with a multi-generational story of Korean immigrants into Japan. While Lee’s novel is told in chronological order, the television series tell a non-linear narrative by alternating between the multiple time periods and characters of “Pachinko,” creating a haunting and powerful kaleidoscopic portrait of the Korean diaspora experience in Japan between the years 1915, the 1920s and 1930s, and up to 1989.

The primary protagonist of “Pachinko” is Kim Sunja (Youn Yuh-jung), whose life we follow from when she was a young woman in Korea and Japan in the 1920s and 1930s, and up to her elder years in Japan in 1989. The younger Sunja comes from a humble background in a small fishing village, but she has aspirations to improve her life and see the wider world. Her life changes when she falls in love with and has an affair with the wealthy, married Korean merchant Koh Hansu (Lee Min-ho), which unfurls a series of events that lead her to move to Japan after she meets and marries Baek Isak (Steve Sanghyun Noh), a Protestant Korean minister. “Pachinko” also tells the parallel stories of Sunja’s son Baek Mozasu (Soji Arai), a wealthy businessman who makes his fortune from pachinko parlors, and Mozasu’s own son Solomon (Jin Ha), an ambitious, young businessman working in a banking firm in 1989 Japan.

The interconnectedness of these various time periods and characters are not readily apparent in the first few episodes, as “Pachinko” continuously moves backwards and forwards in time, cross-cutting between several parallel stories. But, as the series progresses, Kogonada and Chon skillfully reveal how the seemingly disparate characters and time periods relate to each other, culminating in a climactic last few episodes that pack a huge emotional punch. In one particularly astonishing sequence, after Sunja discovers a life-changing event involving her lover Hansu, “Pachinko” cuts backwards and forwards between Sunja’s conflict with Hansu and Solomon’s own personal struggles with his own forbidden lover Hana (Mari Yamamoto).

“Pachinko” is definitely a slow build that requires active participation and patience to understand its myriad storylines and themes, but it rewards the viewer with a deeply affecting conclusion. In the final episodes of “Pachinko,” Kogonada and Chon flash back to a devastating historical event in 1923 Japan which helps to explain Hansu’s relationship with Sunja, and then the plot flashes forward to 1989 Japan, as we see how this historical tragedy shaped Sunja’s later life as an elderly woman. In “Pachinko,” the events of the past are constantly flowing into and influencing future time periods.

In addition to exploring the metamorphic nature of time, “Pachinko” also delves into the concept of a homeland and how older and newer generations view it differently. Sunja is deeply aware of the many sacrifices she made when she had to leave Korea and rebuild her life as a young woman in Japan. Thus, she is constantly haunted by memories of her past life, and yearns to return to Korea. However, Sunja’s grandson Solomon thrives outside his homeland of Korea, as he built a successful life studying abroad in America and working in Japan.

The central conflict in “Pachinko” occurs when Solomon tries to close a business deal for his firm by forcing an elderly expatriate Korean woman to give up her land. The elderly woman is hesitant to give up her land because she doesn’t want to sell out to the Japanese. “Pachinko” shows how historically many immigrant Koreans experienced much suffering and discrimination at the hands of the Japanese. Due to his experience abroad and his youth, Solomon never experienced the same injustice by the Japanese that Sunja and the elderly woman in his business deal have. Like many second generation children of immigrants, Solomon doesn’t have the same connection to the past and his homeland as his elders do. Much of “Pachinko’s” drama and conflict arises from this inter-generational schism.

The last section of “Pachinko” is a moving pastiche of real-life interviews with elderly Korean women who had to leave their homeland behind to build new lives in Japan. Although times have changed and Korean expatriates are more welcome and respected in Japan than they were in the past, many of the elderly women Kogonada and Chon interview in “Pachinko” still long for their homeland of Korea. As future generations descended from immigrants acclimate and eventually fully assimilate into their new countries, the concept of a homeland becomes more and more tenuous. Memories of their ancestor’s pasts gradually disappear, as younger generations try to build new identities separate from their immigrant parents. This is why works of art like “Pachinko” are so important; they remind us that many of us came from other distant lands, and we must do our best to honor and respect the memories of our immigrant parents before their experiences fade into oblivion.

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