Warning: This article contains spoilers for the AppleTV+ show. Pachinko.
When Min Jin Lee published his second novel, pachinko, in 2017, it became a National Book Award finalist and received rave reviews. Still, TV and film agent Theresa Kane-Lowe thought a TV adaptation of the sprawling historical novel was “an impossibility”, according to a TIME maintenance.
Covering four generations of a Korean family through the 20th century, the novel presents the largely untold story of Korean immigrants to Japan. Much like the epic and often confusing Dunes, showrunner Soo Hugh (Under the dome, terror) had a huge undertaking to adapt a story with a large cast, multiple languages (Korean, English, and Japanese), and various historical periods ultimately intertwining with each other.
The price of such an arduous task rivaled that of The crown (which claims $13 million per episode), according to The Hollywood Reporter. After a particularly tense one-upmanship, AppleTV+ has picked up the TV adaptation, and from the trailer alone, it’s clear the streamer has spared no expense to stay as close to the original novel’s huge reach as possible.
Yet no book translation on television (or film) can pass perfectly. There are only a limited number of characters, storylines, and locations that a viewer can follow. The book and show mostly follow Sunja, who we first meet in her fishing village with her parents, and who we see well into the 1980s. Hugh wrote the show to run for four seasons, and already the first season changed the way the story is told. It’s unclear which characters will be highlighted more than others over the course of the series, or if entire details of Sunja’s life will be omitted.
From the premiere of the first three episodes, we can tell what’s missing right off the bat, whether you’re a fan of the book looking forward to the adaptation, or a casual viewer just excited for the show. Here are three major changes in Pachinko. And, of course, don’t read on if you don’t want the series spoiled for you.
In the novel, the story of Sunja and her family is told in chronological order, starting from Sunja’s birth and ending in the 1980s with her grandson, Solomon. The AppleTV+ adaptation, however, plans to juxtapose Sunja’s debut with Solomon’s struggles. It’s a bold move, but one that quickly introduces several characters and highlights how Sunja’s choices as a young adult impact the rest of her life. That said, we’ll have to wait and see how the show tries do not too much to spoil Sunja and her family.
One major character (at least according to IMDb) seems to be missing from the series. Sunja actually has two sons in the novel, Mozasu and Noa. We meet Mozasu and his son Solomon at the premiere, but there’s no cast list or mention of Noa yet. In the novel, Noa’s father is Hansu, the wealthy married man whom Sunja meets as a young woman and eventually has a child with. Mozasu is the son of Isak, the man Sunja marries to conceal the identity of her firstborn’s father and to avoid the social shame of having a child out of wedlock.
Mozasu and Noa are raised together, both believing they are Isak’s children. It’s not until later in the novel that Noa finds out who his real father is, causing him to disown his family. He lives in Japan and does the accounting for a racist Japanese pachinko owner, gets married and has children under the false pretense that he is Japanese, not Korean. Eventually, after living under a false identity for years, Sunja finds him. Distraught at not being able to escape his past, Noa commits suicide.
Since Hugh plans to stretch the series over four seasons, it’s possible that Noa will have a storyline next season. But given that we haven’t seen any mention of him in the show yet, it’s possible his story was combined with Mozasu, and we’ll have to see how the show portrays it. him find out his true parentage.
Mosazu grows up and partners with a divorced Japanese woman, Etsuko. Hana is Etsuko’s daughter from her previous marriage and is also a troubled teenager. As she grows up and gets to know Solomon, Hana enters into a brief sexual relationship with him, then flees to Tokyo. Eventually, Solomon locates her and sees her one last time, as she lies dying in a hospital bed.
In the TV series, it seems that Hana has a more prevalent storyline in the show, since she was already mentioned in the first episode. His underscored importance, however, brings us to another major character absent from the series.
In college, Solomon (in the book he goes to Columbia, but in the series he goes to Yale) meets Phoebe, a Korean-American. After college, the two return to Japan, where he then meets Hana for the last time.
In the first episode of the series, Solomon is quickly seen moving from New York to Tokyo without any mention of a loved one. Although Phoebe is a minor character in the book, her absence means the show will likely focus more on Hana without exploring Solomon’s other potential romantic interests. Then again, there’s still time to bring in Phoebe in future seasons, so we can’t say she’s completely off the show. fair again.
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