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Pachinko review – a sumptuous South Korean epic like nothing else on TV | Television & radio

‘They grabbed our land, snatched our rice, our potatoes, our fish,” snarls a fisherman to his mates over a drink. “To take a rock in my hand and crush a soldier’s head with it, to heat my chilly fingers along with his blood! Just to know there’s one much less cockroach wandering our land. That would give me pure pleasure!”

His mates look anxious. Such careless speak prices lives. It’s Korea in 1915, nevertheless it may very well be anyplace oppressed peoples have chafed towards imperial rule – Dublin 1916, Amritsar 1919, Nanking 1937, Mariupol 2022.

When Min Jin Lee’s bestselling novel, Pachinko, was printed in 2017, it was hailed as a sweeping historic epic spanning a wealthy period of recent east Asian historical past. It journeys by way of colonial Korea, the second world battle, the allied occupation of Japan, the Korean battle, to Japan’s high-growth interval – all refracted by way of the prism of 1 household. Tash Aw within the Guardian praised the novel as “a rich tribute to a people that history seems intent on erasing”. He meant the so-called Zainichi – Koreans, usually compelled to go away their homeland after dropping their livelihoods beneath colonial rule and winding up uprooted, anxious second-class residents in Japan.

This adaptation (Apple TV+) brings to life a Korea you’ll by no means have gleaned from Squid Game or Ok-pop. It’s an unlimited, luxurious, dynastic political TV collection of the type scarcely made any extra, full with swooning strings from Nico Muhly’s rating. It jogs my memory of the historic tv dramas I grew up with – Roots, Tenko, The Forsyte Saga. But there’s a distinction. Pachinko sophisticatedly cuts throughout continents and eras, from a country fishing village beneath the Japanese yoke in 1915, to braces-wearing monetary staff greed-brokering offers on inexperienced laptop screens in 1989 New York and Tokyo.

Pachinko opens on an idyllic Korean island, blighted byJapanese officers straight out of the sadistic rotters’ playbook. “We bestow on these idiots all our progress, our schools, our education only to have a cripple spew lies in our face,” says one, on the morning after the drunken fisherman’s seditious rant.

The “cripple” he’s speaking about is Hoonie – the kindly, cleft-lipped, hobbling father of our lovable heroine Sunja – and he received’t betray his fisherman chum to those thuggish overlords. It’s Sunja who sensibly tells our doomed insurgent fisherman to clear off out of city. “I’m a man,” he tells the little lady within the opening episode’s most poignant line, “who no longer knows how to live in the world.” We minimize to 1989 Osaka, the place Sunja, now a beloved granny resting on the veranda, wistfully recollects this second.

The advantage of this reducing forwards and backwards is to strengthen the sense that the drama’s Korean characters have of dwelling beneath a curse. “There is a curse in my blood,” Sunja’s mom says on the outset: all three of her sons have died of their first yr and, now pregnant with Sunja, she fears the lady will die too. Later our drunken fisherman worries: “It’s too much, living with this hate. Our children will be cursed. How can all this ever end?”

Each such scene then flashes ahead to 1989, the place Sunja’s grandson, a Korean-Japanese Wall Street whizz child known as Solomon, is making an attempt to dealer a Trump-like resort deal in Tokyo to make his fortune. He visits his household within the Korean township in Osaka. Is he, too, beneath the household curse? No doubt, that’s the reason Solomon’s beloved granny tells him he’s higher off within the US.

The drawback with this narrative experience by way of time, although, is that it overloads us with tantalising storylines. I need to care about Solomon’s sister who has disappeared and may be useless, however right here she is a mere element flagged up for future reference.

Near the top of the primary episode, there’s one other shift within the timeline. We flash ahead eight years from 1915. Sunja is now a good looking, if impoverished, younger girl, shadowed, as she strolls by way of her native city’s fish-gutting zone, by a strikingly good-looking mysterious stranger in impeccably pressed western garments (what sort of twerp wears a white linen swimsuit the place fish heads are flung about?) She notices she is being stared at, however he can’t maintain from staring. It’s an eloquent depiction of his need – and her intrigued disbelief that this soigné stranger wishes her.

Sunja doesn’t know what horrible secrets and techniques are going to be revealed about this stranger. Those of us who’ve learn the novel, although, do: Pachinko’s curse, if that’s what it’s, is poised to strike once more.



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