Is 'Pachinko' Based on a True Story?

Pachinko is Apple TV+'s newest drama which spans several decades in the life of one family across generations.

The drama follows its characters through many significant historical periods, such as the Japanese occupation of Korea, the AIDS crisis, and through the height of the bubble economy in Japan.

Here is everything you need to know about the show's origins.

Is 'Pachinko' Based on a True Story?

Pachinko is based on a novel by Min Jin Lee, which focuses on fictional character Sunja as she navigates life as a child (Jeon Yu-na), as a teenager (Kim Minha) and in her 70s (Youn Yuh-jung).

However, while the show takes its story from this fictional source the history behind it is real and it was something creator Soo Hugh, and executive producers Theresa Kang-Lowe and Michael Ellenberg, were keen to make clear.

Hugh told Newsweek: "This is obviously based on a fictional work, it's a fictional series. But I think it's so, so crucial to remind the audience that these stories are built on people who actually went through these experiences.

"I think when history feels so far away from us, as when we start [to forget], you know, we make the same mistakes."

The Japanese occupation of Korea began in 1910 when Japan annexed Korea and considered it a part of the Empire of Japan until 1945. During this period many Korean citizens moved to Japan where they became known as Zainichi.

As is seen in Pachinko, Japan tried to all but wipe out Korean culture, and forced nearly 725,000 men to work in Japan and its territories, and they also forced thousands of Korean women into becoming "comfort women," i.e. sexual slaves for Japanese soldiers.

Of how she felt when first reading the book, Hugh went on: "I was flying from London back home... I have a seven-hour flight ahead of me and I opened the book, and it's one of those moments where seven hours disappeared.

"There's this one scene in the book, where Yangjin, Sunja's mother, tries to buy a bag of rice and I just melted, I just couldn't stop crying.

"The flight attendant came up to me thinking 'oh my god, are you okay?' And I was like, 'you have to read this book!'

"When I got off the fight, I knew that it was in my soul somehow, I didn't have it cracked yet at that time but I knew there was something about that book just that was going to stay with me."

Kang-Lowe, who was the one to give Hugh the book, added: "When I was at UCLA, I was studying Asian American studies, an anthropology course and East Asian Studies, and I wrote a paper about Koreans living in Japan.

"I really had not known about this history, and that was really the first time I had an understanding of the larger Korean diaspora outside the U.S, which is where I grew up, and my parents are also from Korea.

"Years later, when I read the book... I immediately felt connected to it, I had that recognition from the story I remembered in my college days, and I shared it with a few Asian American screenwriters.

"Many of them passed for a variety of different reasons, but I felt it was really Soo who was the right person to tell the story anyway.

"She and I both felt emotionally connected to it, it's a deeply Korean story, but it goes beyond that and we really love the story."

How 'Pachinko' Is a Universal Story

The executive producer went on to share the personal connection she felt with the book, and how it made her reflect on her own family's experiences.

"I think specifically there's so much [in the book] for me being Korean when I look at my family's past, and journey to America," she said. "My parents were born and raised in Korea and often they would not share many stories with me about my grandparents and the people before them, and I think it was a bit of a sense of sorrow.

"Maybe they didn't want to share that kind of emotional burden with me, but the truth is this story unlocked all of that. One of the things that I first did is I bought the book in Korean and I shared it with both my parents.

"They read it and they started telling me a little little bit about our family's history, a little bit more than I already knew. They told me that they actually had relatives who stayed in Japan and I didn't realize that there was this familial connection.

"But I think, ultimately, audiences worldwide, if you really look at your own family, this multi-generational [aspect], Soo always talks about [how] there's a Sunja in every family, and no matter where you come from there is someone like that in your family."

For Ellenberg, Pachinko was also something he could connect to: "We believed it was an important story that hadn't been told before, and if you told it authentically then it would speak to Koreans, Korean Americans, Zainichi, people who are most intimately connected to the material.

"But also, if you deal with that specificity, it would also have a universal resonance, my own family background I'm a children of immigrants and the stories become almost abstract when you hear them from your parents.

"And so the goal was rendering the truth of this experience, we all have these epics behind us, and they're very hard to access, and so there's a truth about the human experience that Pachinko captures."

The first three episodes of Pachinko are out on Apple TV+ now, and it will continue to air weekly on Fridays.

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"Pachinko" launched on Apple TV+ on Friday, March 25.