Episode 4 of Pachinko starts in Busan 1931. Koh Hansu shows up and confronts Isak while he’s being fitted for a suit. It’s tense between the two, as Isak opens up about his past, including his deceased brother Samoel.
Hansu is not exactly a forgiving man though, telling Isak to get a new suit – even offering to pay for it given the one he’s wearing isn’t up to scratch. Isak refuses, standing up to the Broker and even throwing shade at him, pointing out how “his son” will have a similar suit in years to come.
Isak is a man of faith and unfortunately, Pastor Shin does not take kindly to his idea of taking Sunja as his wife and raising the child as his own. However, he eventually agrees to wed them both, solidifying this bond all the same. Off the back of this, Sunja’s mother manages to convince one of the workers down at the docks to give up some rice for her. Of course, that’s easier said than done given there needs to be enough left over for the Japanese.
When the kind old man learns that Sunja is due to leave Korea shortly and follow her husband abroad to Japan, he agrees to give up enough rice for three bowls. It’s a bittersweet meal in truth, especially as Sunja is about to leave behind everything she holds dear – including her mother’s cooking. This is significant given the moments prior to this scene we see Sunja’s mum meticulously cooking the food by hand herself.
Remember Kyunghee? Well, it turns out she’s actually Isk’s sister. Now, one could question how hard-hitting this death was last episode, given it’s barely registered at the time as we didn’t know exactly who she was. Unless you read the book of course! For now, Sunja prepares for a new journey. There’s some beautiful juxtaposed edits here, as we jump back and forth between elderly Sunja packing up her gear (to travel across to Korea) and young Sunja packing up her clothes (to travel away to Japan.)
We stay to 1931 though, where Koh Hansu corners Sunja and tries to convince her to stay. When Sunja shuts him down, refusing to stay, Hansu promises that when she arrives in Osaka and finds herself lost and alone, he’ll make sure to feign ignorance when they talk on the phone. There’s no way back now for Sunja.
This weighs heavily over Sunja though, as she waits at the port with her mother as Isak gets everything in order. She talks about setting roots and the desire to fly, both of which feeling like beautiful metaphors for Sunja’s epic journey. As the bells ring, Isak returns and encourages Sunja to join him aboard the Tokuju Maru, the ship bound for Japan.
In 1989, Solomon speaks to Naomi about the current hotel deal. She brings up his family life and, more specifically, how his father owns a Pachinko business. This will forever be a part of his life’s journey, whether he likes it or not. For Naomi, she intends to rise to the top of Shiffley’s, despite the disdain her own parents have toward her choosing this line of work.
For now, Han Geumja (the lady who agreed to give up the lot of her house) arrives at Shiffley’s, ready to do her duty and sign over the documents. Mr Andrews is there to give a big speech about Colton Hotels and how lucrative this is going to be. Geumja is decidedly quiet. Donning her reading glasses, she begins poring through the contract and making sure everything is in order.
While she deliberates, Solomon speaks up and mentions how his own grandmother (Sunja) is on the verge of heading back to Korea for the first time in 50 years.
Geumja perks up and reflects back on the horrific ordeal their people suffered at the hands of the Japanese. She mentions the ship sending Koreans over to Japan.
Geumja’s father actually worked in the mines in Chikuho, boarding a boat himself. The conditions were awful and unfortunately when they complained and went on strike, the workers were subsequently fired.
Sky-high rent and being called cockroaches were steps too far, as Geumja tells her harrowing story to a wide-eyed and shocked Solomon. Now, of course up until this point Solomon has been rather nonchalant about the history of his ancestors but here, in this stuffy boardroom surrounded by businessmen, he realizes just how difficult this is for Geumja. He’s finally starting to understand the horrors from the past.
A shell-shocked Solomon eventually agrees that if it were his grandmother, he wouldn’t sign the document either. So she packs up her things and leaves, with the deal not signed and the whole room left in turmoil. Mr Andrews is shocked, as the Japanese investors turn on Solomon and claim that “someone like him” should never have been allowed into their inner circle.
Solomon charges out the building, dancing in the rain as Naomi watches on from afar. After a faint smile, she walks away. As she does, we cut back to Sunja who arrives back in Korea and steps out into the water, sobbing as the waves lap onto the shore.
The Episode Review
Solomon finally understands what his grandmother has been through, along with the harrowing ordeal that Koreans have had to endure at the hands of the Japanese. He’s experienced this racial prejudice already, typified by not getting the promotion at the start of the first episode despite being incredibly adept in his role. Now it’s becoming increasingly clear that Solomon had been clinging to false hope of a promotion that’s never going to come.
This works really well to showcase Solomon’s character growth, and it’s something that’s echoed nicely across the season too, juxtaposed against Sunja’s storyline, which is of course still the focal point.
Pachinko has done well so far to build up strong and defined characters carrying a lot of baggage, although given the book is told in chronological order, there are moments that could have had far bigger emotional weight had this been told in a linear fashion. Kyunghee’s death, for example, is just brushed over despite learning she’s going to be a focal point in this timeline in the future.
Moments like this do detract slightly from what’s otherwise been a very good watch. Everything is left wide open by the end though, with episode 5 promising to be just as enthralling as this one.