'Pachinko' Cast on Connecting to Their Characters in Apple TV+ Show

Pachinko may be based on a novel by Min Jin Lee, but for the cast it was a story they could relate to on a personal level.

The Apple TV+ show, which premiered on Friday, March 25, is a historical epic that spans several decades and follows one family as they remain resilient in the face of racism and adversity.

Youn Yuh-jung, Jin Ha, and Anna Sawai spoke to Newsweek about portraying their characters, Sunja, her grandson Solomon, and his colleague Naomi, respectively.

All three appear in the show's 1989 timeline, in which Solomon struggles with his identity as he returns to Japan to help his company close a big deal by persuading a Zainichi Korean woman to sell her home.

How the 'Pachinko' Cast Connected With Their Characters

Youn's character, Sunja, is in her 70s, and is focused on doing the best she can to give her family a better life from what she had, as seen in the show's earlier timelines that feature Kim Minha and Jeon Yu-na in the role.

The Oscar-winner told Newsweek: I felt an immediate connection to Sunja somehow, so I liked playing this role. I went to get the book, and I read the novel after the script."

Youn added that she felt particularly moved by her characters "journey to survive," adding: "I was very inspired by her resilience and strength of determination to survive and trying to love [and] protect her family. Everything, it just touched me and I tried to portray her as [she is] in the novel and as the script."

"Actually, I overheard from my mother, my mother was born in 1924 that's during the occupation time by [the] Japanese, it was second knowledge," Youn went on, sharing how her personal experience shaped the character of Sunja.

"When you've been occupied by some other country, anything can happen but we don't have to look back, and we don't have to think about the past. We have to look forward to the future, it's already happened.

"So, to me, I don't look at the past it's no use, we should go forward, that part of the story already happened. It was very nice, personally, because I learned not only a lot about the details of that part of the history but [also] the human story, how they survived and existed.

"It's not comparable with my time [when I grew up], it's not nothing I can compare [to], their story. So, I really wanted to honour their story with this show."

Ha also spoke about his character, Solomon, and described him as being "stuck in three worlds" because of how he identifies as Korean, but grew up in Japan and went on to study and work in America.

"Those three pieces of him are constantly at play and constantly interacting with each other in the ways that he switches or with the ways that he interacts with people when he recognises who he's with," Ha told Newsweek. "We see it in the show with how he feels confident and being able to connect with the landowner because she happens to be Korean Japanese Zainichi as well, and how he switches languages, but also how he switches behaviour.

"There are subtle ways and differences in how he speaks, I hope to have conveyed [that] because I think those subtle differences, those details... hopefully makes the full palate of Solomon come through.

"In terms of, this is one person and yet I'm sure so many people relate to the different elements of who he is, and how that they are all authentic, and valid, and true.

"But, at the same time, every piece of him hides a little bit of something else. I related to that a lot, having also immigrated to America at a young age and finding myself in places where I needed to quickly fit in."

Sawai's character is a woman who struggles with making her mark in a misogynistic world determined to put her down, despite her being as qualified as Solomon.

She told Newsweek she often spoke with her mother in order to inform the way she played Naomi: "I just loved that I got to talk to my mom and learn from her experience and share that with everyone, because I had no idea that women were thought of as Christmas cakes during that time.

"Once you were past the age of 25 you were no longer desirable, and, you know, having to face that... we're still working on it now but it was so much worse back then.

"And seeing that companies did not have the system to support women working longer, and working until their 30s 40s, they didn't have that. And so to see someone going through that, and how much fire she has, and how she's turning the frustration into power that inspired me a lot."

On the Challenges of Starring in a Multilingual Show

Pachinko sees its characters speak either Korean, Japanese, and English throughout, with Ha having to use all three languages while playing Solomon.

The multilingual nature of the show was difficult, he said: "It was incredibly challenging. This was, I think, by far the hardest job I've ever had because I don't speak Japanese.

"Within that there were the details we decided to include, Japanese accented Korean, Kansai dialect, and Tokyo dialects of Japanese. But, it was truly the work that my coach and I, Yumi and I did, really that put it together. I mean, Solomon would not exist without my dialect coach."

Sawai, who also speaks Japanese and English in the show, praised her co-star for "working so hard" on learning the language for the part: "I wanted to invite him to go on walks and stuff, but he would be like, 'No, I really need some time to just study.'"

Ha added: "I felt like I was working on a thesis project, for seven, eight months. I mean it was just constantly studying, but I had an amazing company of cast members who were outrageously supportive.

"In spite of my not speaking Japanese, I loved our scenes when we did speak Japanese because I felt like I was able to act with Anna."

Sawai then joked: "Yeah, it's strange, because I keep forgetting that you don't speak Japanese", which Ha said was the "highest praise" he could hope for.

The first three episodes of Pachinko are out on Apple TV+ now, and the show will continue to be released on a weekly basis every Friday.

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Youn Yuh-jung, Jin Ha and Anna Sawai in "Pachinko," the actors spoke to Newsweek about how they connected with their characters.