Pachinko Review-Scene by Scene

Courtesy: IMDB

I recently finished (in one day) watching Pachinko, a series based on the book of the same title. Part of me is still reeling from it. It is the best piece of media I have seen so far. And people who really know me know that I am deeply affected by many things, especially movies. I had seen the trailer and behind the scenes before starting the series, which was gripping- cinematically. Also, Lee Min-ho stars in it.

In the first episode, the information about Min-ho’s character impregnating his foil- Sunja, and that not ending well for her, kept me going; I patiently waited for his character to enter. I enjoyed their meeting, sometimes seeing myself in Sunja, and feeling a deep sadness knowing what was to come. There’s more though, stories in different periods, cities, languages, and lives. This is foreshadowed in the opening credits of every episode “Pachinko is presented in its two original languages, Korean and Japanese.” And throughout the series, the colors yellow and blue represent each of these languages. In one scene, a Korean Zanichi, living in Japan says the word mother in Korean, while the remaining dialogue is in Japanese. The scene is endearing, to say the least. After Japan’s occupation of Korea ended, many Koreans remained in Japan, where they were seen as outsiders.

Even though Koreans living in Japan before World War II faced racial discrimination and economic exploitation, they were still considered Japanese citizens by the Japanese government, and the government aimed to fully integrate them into Japanese society through education and promoting intermarriage. However, after the war, the Japanese government changed their perspective and labeled ethnic Koreans as foreigners, no longer acknowledging them as Japanese nationals (Moon, 2010).

In a way, the series is about Koreans suffering, during and after Japan’s occupation.

The series educated me about the history of Japan and Korea. But more than that, it solidified my awareness of how bad colonialism and imperialism is. It doesn’t always feel good to have your views strengthened and validated. The Koreans I and many around me know of and see as good-skinned, plastic surgery-infused people once suffered during Japan’s occupation, from 1910 until 1945. Moreover, my idea of colonialism was dominated by British colonialism, ever so fascinated with India and Pakistan and their people. In one scene, a Korean, sub-class citizen living in slum-like conditions in Osaka says something along the lines of how they (Koreans) drink and beat their wives and kids to cope with the fact that outside their homes, the Japanese will always remain superior. Other scenes remain equally powerful. Naomi, one of the few Japanese characters and the only woman holding a non-secretarial job in the series, in 1989 Japan, professes that she works at Shiffley not because it is one of the top firms. The scene (in Japanese):

Solomon: Why are you here then? You’re from a good school, a good family.

Naomi: Smiles and nods. Yes, because of that, I was sought after by all the top banks in the country. But against my parent’s wishes, I chose Shiffley’s. You see, as a woman, it helps to be surrounded by those less accomplished. Here, I can rise.

The series made me think about myself, my past, and history, especially about my grandfather who in reality I know very little of. He passed away when I was in grade two. The tale about him is that of rags to riches, how he came to Bhutan to work on the roads from Nepal, and that overnight or with time, depending on how I like people to perceive the story, became rich. Even today, my grandmother will bring him up, reminding us that all we have and can do is due to him. 

Further, it made me think about my struggles growing up. I could relate to Solomon, a third-generation Zanichi, and his need to fit in by “being better” than his old self, by acquiring more social status and material wealth. Part of the reason why I set my eyes on attending university in America is because many kids from affluent backgrounds were also heading there, or had gotten degrees from there. I think I saw this as a way to catch up with that world. I felt a strong need to be accepted into certain groups, but I was never accepted, being that I never belonged there, which I now know. In the series, Solomon only has one friend, a Japanese, (besides his father’s girlfriend’s daughter) who looks down on him. One is never quite sure if he is actually bothered by this. 

Solomon also reminded me of people who were once in my life including people who caused me harm; it made me think if they too experienced similar things, as well as other people who I had not met or know of. Pachinko left me thinking about all of our lives. Watching it, I felt compassion for the collective pain that so many of us share. 

There is more than meets the eye

if you are weak you are yourself 

if she is stronger than you she’s a bitch 

If she stands up for herself she’s a bitch 

what’s keeping her from jumping off the window 

What does she want 

she knows what she wants 

a life for herself

one that looks good on the pictures so everyone wins 

She always likes to balance things that way 

Warm dim lights, eating out, her baby (her boy?) graying her hair 

everything’s planned, like a loser

may be she needs to not be here 

this place makes her mad 

she cries a tear 

This is the story of a child

of a mother 

of not getting what they wanted 

who will proceed to cut her hair 

she waits for her mom in the bed

but she never comes 

like olden times she knows when she’s left

Over breakfast she is momentarily haywire 

the fried garlic and chili flakes fly 

she doesn’t rush to clean it 

she eats her food and drinks the juice. 


This is the feeling of bile of a cursed unrequited love for millennia 

of hunger the following morning after a “full” meal as ecstasy’s lingering impact on a newbie’s stomach when you can feel and taste the dysgeusia

of an object by its design and innovation tempting you to disrupt its inertia 

of suicide over positive thoughts 

of anxiety creeping above and on you like soft electric shocks 

of mom not returning 

of an unfinished orgasm. 


She loves like it’s free 

She’s strength just by being herself 

she who I can’t hug right now

She who I can’t give a kiss on the cheek right now 

She who is sincere and pure like him

She who works hard for everyone but for herself 

She who loves fiercely as if love is fire and she them

I would rather not tell the world about her

Something comes over me

possessiveness ?

Or the fact that there are no words to describe her?

Or that the world doesn’t deserve her. Then what makes you think you do?

Then the world will know I am a fraud 

Who got everything good and nothing bad from her 

With you suffering begins 

I’m typing this instead of writing it by hand

Decadence overtakes me

I can feel the anxiety loom

The days before stacked and ready to crash land 

You implant rottenness 

Your intentions are foul 

                                                                   I love you 

Listen to me and never talk to me again