It is a sweeping story of immigrant resilience, of identity and belonging, of historical trauma that resonates across generations. But while its themes are universal, “Pachinko” is rooted in a specific story, a critical chapter of which is in danger of disappearing.
That reality makes the final minutes of the season especially noteworthy.
The eight-episode season, which chronicles how Japanese colonialism shapes the lives of Sunja and her descendants, ends with documentary footage of real-life Sunjas: Korean women who moved to Japan between 1910 and 1945 and stayed there after leaving. the Second World War. The resulting interviews with these first-generation women offer a glimpse into that period not found in the history books.
“This was a group of people whose stories weren’t considered important enough to record or record,” showrunner Soo Hugh recently told CNN. “There’s not as much photographic evidence, especially from that first generation. That told me this was a story worth telling.”
The eight women briefly described at the end of “Pachinko” are nearly all in their 90s; one has surpassed 100. They faced countless hardships and systemic discrimination in the country they now call home, but, as the season-ending sequence says, they stuck it out. However, Hugh said, many of them had been made feel that their lives were not remarkable.
Fearful that the women’s stories would be lost to time, Hugh felt the need to include their voices in the series. She wanted to honor her experiences for the world to see.
‘Pachinko’ captures a painful story
“Pachinko” star Sunja leaves her village in 1930s Korea for Japan after unforeseen circumstances lead her to marry a man headed for Osaka. When she arrives, she discovers that life for Koreans in Japan is largely a life of struggle and sacrifice.
For many Koreans of that generation, Sunja’s experience is familiar.
“I came here at 11 and started working at 13,” says Chu Nam-Sun, one of the Korean women interviewed for the series, in footage from the documentary. “I grew up sad. So it’s hard for me to be kind to other people. I wonder if that’s because of how I grew up.”
When she began interviewing first-generation Zainichi women 25 years ago, she realized she was learning about a story that was rarely written about: what ordinary women did to survive.
“They were really painting a canvas of immigrant life and daily struggles,” said Kim-Wachutka, whose book “Hidden Treasures: Lives of First-Generation Korean Women in Japan” became required reading for the writers’ room at “Pachinko”. “And their daily struggles weren’t just for their home. Most of the women worked outside the home.”
Just as Sunja sells kimchi in markets to keep her family afloat, the women Kim-Wachutka met through his research he did his best during Japan’s colonial period to make a living. They resorted to smuggling alcohol and traveled to the countryside in search of rice that they could sell on the black market. Whatever abilities they had, they were put to use.
“In all of these women’s stories, I see a lot of Sunja in ‘Pachinko,'” she said.
So when Hugh approached her with the idea of interviewing some of these women for the adaptation, Kim-Wachutka gladly agreed. It was important to her that viewers see the parallels between the characters on the show and the real people who lived through that story.
Women like Sunja fought and survived
Despite Japan’s hostile treatment of Korean immigrants, Sunja remains in the country even after its rule over Korea ends.
For successive generations of Sunja’s family, including the series’ other central character, Solomon, Japan is home, though they often question whether they really belong.
While most Koreans in Japan returned to their homeland after World War II, the women Kim-Wachutka interviews at the end of “Pachinko” are among the estimated 600,000 Koreans who stayed behind.
“I can’t go to Korea,” Chu Nam-Sun tells Kim-Wachutka in mixed Japanese and Korean. “I can’t go to my country, so this is my hometown now.”
“I don’t like to say this, but my children wouldn’t be able to live in Korea,” says Kang Bun-Do, 93 at the time of the interview. “So I made sure they were assimilated into Japanese society.”
The lives of the first-generation women interviewed at the end of “Pachinko” have been marked by struggle, but that’s not all that defines them. Ri Chang-Won alludes to how proud she is of her son and her grandchildren. Chu Nam-Sun is shown flipping through a photo album, marveling at the age of those memories. Still, she hasn’t looked back.
“There were no difficulties for me in the life I chose for myself,” he adds. “I made my own path, my own path, so I have no regrets at all about the path I chose and walked.”
Their stories help us consider the past and the present.
In sharing these stories with the world, Hugh said he wanted to make sure the women had agency and didn’t feel like they were being used for the show. And in the end, he said, many of them described the experience of being interviewed as a form of healing.
A particularly revealing moment comes at the end of the recording, when Kim-Wachutka comments on Ri Chang-Won’s bright smile. Ri doubles over with laughter, as if she is amazed to receive such a compliment. When she finally regains her composure, she speaks once more.
“I’m sure it must have been boring, but thanks for listening,” she says of her story.
The stories of first-generation Zainichi women, like Sunja’s journey in “Pachinko,” open important conversations about race, oppression, and reconciliation, not only as it relates to Koreans in Japan but in communities around the world. world, Kim- said Wachutka. Listening to her stories, she said, can help us recognize past injustices and perhaps prevent them from happening again.