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‘Pachinko’, the series that honors South Korean women

'Pachinko', the series that honors South Korean women

The Serie Pachinko, premiered a few weeks ago on Apple TV, it has told me more about the inner and suffering world of Korean women who lived through the occupation of Japan in 1910, than all the documentaries I have seen on the subject. Well, it is a way of speaking, of course, but it is the one that touches. The series, majestic, based on the equally superb book, has female characters (with Sunja the girl, the young woman, the old woman, at the head), very well endowed, full of tiny and huge stories, tender, powerful, rarely seen in the audiovisual scene.

Pachinko is a historical drama that recounts the eighty years of the life of Sunja, the protagonist, and of the four generations of that Korean family, who saw how vital peace was broken in 1910, after the invasion of Japan. Creator Soo Hugh (TheTerror) narrates the journey that Sunja’s family travels through almost a century, the 20th, from 1910 to 1989, and pays tribute to those women that history has hidden or omitted so many times. Hugh recounts in a new way the horror, the love, the loneliness, the sorrow, the integrity of the female protagonist, who is the axis of everything, and of her personal, family environment.

Everything is poetry Pachinko, for which four seasons are planned. This first, of eight chapters, is beautiful, very hard, forceful and above all, calm, worthy of being consumed little by little, to verify that each feigned gesture, of the protagonists above all, contains a whole world of setbacks, of silences and of fears We had seen other audiovisual works produced in South Korea about the invasion -which lasted 35 years, until 1945- and its horrors, but few with an eye on the women who endured, who emigrated and who suffered, as always, twice as much. .

There is, for example, the untold story in the cinema (that I remember) of the so-called “comfort women” or “comfort women”, the South Korean sex slaves at the service of the Japanese Imperial Army during the occupation of South Korea and China . Despite the fact that this matter, its memory, greatly complicated Japan’s relations with several of its Asian neighbors, no one in fiction has paid attention to them, as protagonists, beyond mere embellishments in war action stories, espionage, etc. . Many of them died in military brothels without ever receiving an apology from the Japanese authorities. South Korea revealed in 2017 the earliest known footage of these women.


Women are the great protagonists of ‘Pachinko’.

So Pachinko It’s special for that too. For putting the focus on what no one had put it before. The series is built with that oriental aesthetic that is beginning to be close to us in the audiovisual field, but that we can still consider unusual in many aspects (the rhythm, for example). Based on the powerful novel of the same name, published in 2017 by Min Jin Lee, a Korean born and living in the US since she was 7 years old, and which became an immediate phenomenon, leaves you hopelessly nailed to the sofa, out of pure empathy, out of a desire to know more, to know the ins and outs, to understand why so much unhappiness. The senselessness of the war, of the occupations, of the invasions, captivated Obama, among others, who read the book on the recommendation of a member of his team: “It is a powerful story about resilience and compassion.”

And just like the novel, (whose more than 500 pages I devoured hopelessly two summers ago, under the bougainvillea), the Apple TV series, which premiered the penultimate episode of the first season yesterday, has lyricism in abundance. Such beautiful landscapes could never be more devastating. There we see the Korea occupied by the Japanese at the beginning of the 20th century, the Japan of the years before World War II, and the end of 1980. And in those immense landscapes, in those scenarios that accompany the protagonists in adversity , in love, in tenacity in the face of horror, we find everything: identity, homeland, belonging, uprooting and its pain. And above all that, resistance. The phrase with which both stories start, the written and the audiovisual, clearly says: “History has failed us but it doesn’t matter”.

I take back what you said New York Times about the novel, translated into 30 languages ​​and carefully edited in Spain by Quaterni, a specialist in Oriental literature: “Lee suggests that behind the facades of totally different people, innumerable private desires, hopes and miseries hide, if we have the patience and the compassion to look and listen.” We can say exactly the same about this Korean-Japanese epic, intimate like few others and so pleasant to watch.

Lee, the author of the novel, a columnist in different South Korean media, was designated in 2018, one of the “ten writers who are changing the social conversation” and dedicated a good part of her life as a writer to compose this novel that she titled Pachinko with a clear intention: that is the name of some very popular and traditional Korean and Japanese game machines, something like our pinball. It is a game where chance is important and where the player hardly has anything to say. The same thing happens in the lives of the leading women.


Still from ‘Pachinko’, the South Korean series that is successful on Apple TV.

They, the women in this story, represent so many others who have hidden themselves. Feigned, cornered, they were only worthy, hard-working, strong. They deserved this series, which finally shows them to us, giving them all the prominence. They deserved this audiovisual story that is recreated in the details to explain well the beautiful parent-child relationship, the very strong bond that unites Sunja and her mother, and the other women with whom she lives, the broken innocence, the unbearable pain of the absences. There are overflowing emotions, (that scene of the farewell between mother and daughter, when this recently married part, on a boat, heading to Japan, breaks your heart), and contained. Disturbing, evocative images and formidable visual analogies between the different eras covered by the series.

The creator of the series, like the author of the book, have insisted on honoring the women who did not give up when everything was against them, and also those who had no choice but to give up. Those who stayed in occupied Korea, suffering the invasion in their lives, and those who left and never came back. A series shot in South Korea, Japan and Canada, in Japanese, Korean and English, without this being any problem, with an immense cast of protagonists and secondary characters, who represent the four generations of the same family and that tells nothing more and nothing less than the Asian history of the 20th century.

Then there is his head, which is a relief of light and color for the story that awaits us, which breaks with the sad and gray clothes that he is going to give us. Pachinko. It’s a visual, musical fantasy, to the tune of that good American group from the late sixties, The Grass Roots. The song with which they make the protagonists dance, Let’s Live for Today, with 15 million listeners on Spotify, it reminds of the Byrds, the Zombies, the Monkees, the Beach Boys, that post-Beatles pop rock. The veteran actress Youn Yuh-jung, who plays Sunja as an old woman and who won an Oscar in 2021 for Minari. And that header gets you into the series with the wind in your favor.

Once there, hard scenes are not spared, but without excesses, there is no gratuitous violence, everything is suggested, nothing is hyperbolic. A couple of glances from the protagonist are enough to understand the excesses of that colonization, the subjugation suffered by Korean citizens. There is a scene, already in 1989, in which Solomon’s American boss, Sunja’s grandson living in New York, tells him, after an uncomfortable moment of tension: “Ah, yes, the whole situation of the Koreans against the Koreans. Japanese. Why don’t people get over that once and for all?”, making clear the lack of empathy that at this point in the series you can’t help but feel.

The woman and the rice

Immigration and its harshness, racial discrimination, generational divergences… the weight of tradition, of the opinion of others, the ties between women that literally saved life, or at least reduced the anguish, the vital anxiety. That’s what the culinary scenes are for, the rice, the spices, the barley, the garlic, the white radishes, the fish, the fish market, the market, the racking in the kitchen. Through a bowl of white rice (if he can have it or not), Lee knows how to tell us a part of the family history. A fish, a soup, a black clay rice cooker cooking rice, shows an entire universe.

There is a moment when Sunja, newly arrived in Japan at the age of 16, installed in the house of her kind sister-in-law (who will be a key figure for the rest of her life), sits down at the table and discovers that bowl of rice white that refers her to childhood, to her mother. She cries and the viewer too.

I find out in the series that white rice was banned for Koreans during the occupation. It was reserved only, due to scarcity, for the colonizing Japanese. Sunja’s mother wants to offer her daughter rice and not millet or sorghum, those substitutes that Koreans are allowed, for the last meal before her departure. She goes to the market and begs the vendor to sell her two bowls, knowing that it is forbidden. The seller refuses, “if they discover me, I will pay the consequences, she tells him”. But she tells him that she has no dowry of hers to give him, that she has nothing of hers, that she can only offer him that bowl of rice, prepared with care by her, so that the girl can take it in her mouth. she. The seller takes pity on the woman and secretly sells it to her. It is a powerful scene, of absolute love, that moves you.

When he gets home, he washes the rice, prepares it gently, carefully, and serves it to his daughter, who cries when she discovers it. She knows well what that bowl means. She is going to leave behind the women of the house and her harmonious relationships, the trips to the river to take care of the laundry, the visits to the market, the absolute love of her mother. He will not return to her country, and she knows it. And with her go thousands of Korean women who will never return to the country of their childhood either. The only thing that can be taken, in fact, is the taste of her mother’s white rice.

Is Korean fiction here to stay?

For Geca’s Director of Production and Content Consulting, Gloria Salo, this series responds to Apple TV’s commitment “to local products in those territories that stand out for their creative or business interest.” In fact, he took over the rights after a tough battle with other companies that were also interested in the book (which, by the way, had been selected among the top ten of 2017, according to The New York Times) and the series has positioned the platform in a privileged place in the world of great audiovisual productions. “There is a trend of literary adaptations that is taking place globally. It seeks to tell stories known to the public with success in its literary version.

In South Korea, the first Korean-made and Korean-speaking original fiction premiered in November 2021, dr brain a sci-fi drama series based on the webtoon of the same title (the webtoon are digital comics created in South Korea, which are published in a single vertical image for easy reading on mobile and electronic devices). It is a sample of the audiovisual innovation of that country.

According to Salo, “the family element is present in several Korean productions, especially in the so-called ‘chaebol drama’ that focuses on powerful families that own large consortiums and business conglomerates such as Main from Netflix. Family relationships appear in productions such as Sarangui Kkwabaegi either Hyeonjaeneun Areumdawo, both from KBS2, a major South Korean TV station.”

After the irruption of parasites, that took the Oscar for best film two years ago, in 2021 it came to Netflix the squid game, that revolutionized the audiovisual world for a long time and told us that South Korea, its intention in fiction, was serious. Right now, on Netflix too, the romantic comedy Job offer It is in the top of the most seen.

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– Article Written By @Mariola Cubells from https://smoda.elpais.com/placeres/pachinko-apple-tv-serie-mujeres-surcoreanas-youn-yuh-jung/

Nicole Aniston