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Minha Kim as teenage Sunja and Lee Minho as Koh Hansu in 'Pachinko.' Apple

How Apple TV+’s ‘Pachinko’ Delivers A “Conversation Between Generations” On-Screen & Behind The Scenes

Apple TV+’s newest drama Pachinko, based on the award-winning book by Min Jin Lee, offers poignant takeaways about family, survival and love. But, viewers should also expect to walk away with The Grass Roots’ “Let’s Live For Today” stuck in their heads.

The psychedelic anthem scores the series’ title sequence, which weaves together a visual tapestry with the past and present of Korea’s sprawling history. (You can watch it below.) As The Grass Roots sing of living and loving for today, age-worn images of Korean women and men in traditional wear lead to baby photos from the late 20th century, which transition into footage of a bustling Shibuya Crossing in Japan. A convergence of old and new, the high-energy opener is just one of the ways Apple TV+’s Pachinko highlights the link between the present and the generations that came before.

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“Originally in the script is a different song, a Rolling Stones song,” Pachinko showrunner, creator and executive producer Soo Hugh told Deadline. “That was an expensive song. The Rolling Stones. Go figure.”

Pachinko, featuring Minari Oscar winner Youn Yuh-jung and newcomer Minha Kim, follows four generations of a Korean immigrant family who fight to realize their dreams across Korea, Japan and America. The main protagonists are Zainichi Koreans, ethnic Koreans who came to Japan during Japanese colonial rule of Korea, and their descendants, who faced discrimination and marginalization. The series begins with a secret romance that develops into a trilingual saga that explores love, loss, home and identity over nearly a century.

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When Hugh decided to adapt the sweeping 2017 novel, she knew that she didn’t want to redo the book page-for-page, but rather bring her own vision to the story. Those who have read the original source material will notice that Apple’s take on the heart-wrenching account of Sunja and her enduring family boasts a less chronological approach. While skipping between time periods allows the series to feature more characters and plot at once, Hugh said she wanted the show “to be this conversation between generations.”

Soo Hugh
‘Pachinko’ showrunner Soo Hugh

“I feel like that third generation point of view really needs to be put up to mirror that first generation in order to reveal the big themes. Otherwise, I think the themes would have just taken too long to play out,” she added. “I really wanted to crosscut the two storylines and create my own version of the story.”

Teenage Sunja’s departure from Busan to Japan for a better life runs parallel to grandson Solomon’s unrelenting efforts to persuade an elderly Zainichi woman to sell her home. Talk of sunken costs and abundance at an Osaka fish market in the present speaks directly to the poverty and lack of resources Sunja and many Korean families endured when arriving in Japan in the 1930s. With this structure, it’s readily evident how decades-old stories of family hardship, which often go unexpressed and hidden from younger generations; paved the way for the present.

Behind the scenes, Hugh said historical research for Pachinko, which included interviews with Zainichi women who lived during the Japanese occupation (1910-1945), allowed her to fill the “many blank spaces in my family history.” She added that her family’s experiences in that time period were too heavy to discuss openly.

It was the opposite case for star Youn Yuh-jung, known for her work in Korean titles including The Housemaid and My Dear Friends. She told Deadline about her personal ties with the Japanese occupation of Korea. Youn, who plays the 75-year-old Sunja in the 1980s, shared that her mother, born in 1924, and her family lost their land at the time.

Youn Yuh-Jung as 75 year-old Sunja in ‘Pachinko.’ Apple

“It hurt me to play this role, I felt like I’m my mother…that’s why I kind of have a mission to expose this part of our history” she said. “Whether you like it or not, it already happened to us, and we don’t have to be ashamed or proud.”

Similarly, breakout Minha Kim, who portrays the teenage Sunja, said that she learned about the Japanese occupation in school and at home. Kim told Deadline she referred to her grandmother’s personal experience when preparing for the role.

“[My grandmother] spoke to me…’I’m really happy that you got this role, but I’m also very sad that you have to play this role. You have to suffer in that situation, even though it’s just a performance,’” Kim recalled.

While it’s easy to focus on the pain Sunja endured, both Youn and Kim said they wanted to center the hope and humanity that helped the protagonist endure the hard moments of her life. Also joining the project with their own ties to the difficult time in Korea’s history are Korean drama vet Lee Minho, Devs alum Jin Ha and Zainichi Korean actor Soji Arai (Dead of Night).


With opportunities to tap into ancestral experiences, the cast of Pachinko confronts a history of resilience to celebrate the growth and love it provided to future generations. The result is an eight-part, trilingual season that brings the multitudes of the Korean diaspora to a more global audience and accepts the past as matter of fact – just like the Zainichi women Pachinko seeks to highlight.

Like the Korean elders who smile and laugh while reflecting on their experiences of survival for future generations, Hugh said that facing the past doesn’t have to be heavy.

In Pachinko, all four generations of characters and the actors who portray them share the screen for only one sequence – the opening title. They all spin, jump, shuffle and rock out in a pachinko parlor to The Grass Roots’ “Let’s Live For Today.” For Hugh it was important to “not only to have that conversation [between generations], but to have that conversation be joyful.”

Pachinko is available to stream now on Apple TV+.

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