"Pachinko" Tells History of Korean Women in Mid-20th Century JapanBreaking News
tags: racism, World War 2, television, Japanese history, Korean history
At the center of “Pachinko,” the Apple TV+ adaptation of Min Jin Lee’s epic novel, is a character named Sunja – a woman born in Japanese-occupied Korea who leaves her homeland for the imperial country in the early 20th century.
It’s a sweeping tale of immigrant resilience, of identity and belonging, of historical trauma that echoes through generations. But though its themes are universal, “Pachinko” is rooted in a specific history, a critical chapter of which is at risk of vanishing.
That reality makes the final minutes of the season especially remarkable.
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 remained there after World War II. The resulting interviews with these first-generation women offer a glimpse into that period not found in history books.
“This was a group of people whose stories weren’t considered important enough to record or tape,” showrunner Soo Hugh recently told CNN. “There’s not that much photographic evidence, especially from that first generation. That told me that this was a story worth telling.”
The eight women briefly profiled at the end of “Pachinko” are almost all more than 90 years old – one has surpassed 100. They faced countless hardships and systemic discrimination in the country they now call home but, as the season’s closing sequence says, they endured. Yet, Hugh said, many of them had been made to feel that their lives weren’t noteworthy.
Afraid that the women’s stories might be lost to time, Hugh felt an urge to include their voices in the series. She wanted to honor their experiences for the world to see.
“Pachinko” protagonist Sunja leaves her village in Korea in the 1930s for Japan after unforeseen circumstances lead her to marry a man bound for Osaka. When she arrives, she discovers that life for Koreans in Japan is largely one of struggle and sacrifice.
For many Koreans of that generation, Sunja’s experience is a familiar one.
As Japan sought to expand its empire in East Asia, Koreans migrated to Japan in large numbers. Some moved to the land of their colonizer in search of economic and educational opportunities – others had little choice in the matter. Hundreds of thousands of Koreans were conscripted as laborers during Japan’s war efforts and made to work long hours for scant pay, while some Korean women were forced into sexual slavery for the Japanese military. Along with grueling work and substandard housing, Koreans encountered racism and discriminatory treatment.
“I came here at 11 and started working at 13,” Chu Nam-Sun, one of the Korean women interviewed for the series, says in the documentary footage. “I grew up in sadness. So it’s hard for me to be kind to other people. I do wonder if that’s because of how I grew up.”
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