The final episode of Pachinko, the TV adaptation of Min-Jin Lee’s bestselling novel, will air on Apple TV+ on Friday. The multigenerational story of a Korean family who immigrates to Japan during Japanese colonial authority has already caused this Morning Brew writer cry four times.
Soo Hugh, the showrunner, executive producer, writer, and creator of Pachinko, chatted with us about the show as well as the growing popularity of international entertainment in general.
The majority of Pachinko’s core cast is Korean. How essential was it to you that the cast was diverse?
I believe you would not have been able to put on the show without it. One of the things we say is that Asians are not all the same, right? So, I’m Korean, for example. I’m neither Japanese nor Chinese. And a Japanese person is neither Vietnamese nor Korean. We’re not interchangeable since we have varied backgrounds, experiences, and histories. I believe it is critical to strive to portray the original character as accurately as possible.
Three languages are spoken by the characters in the show. Did you write Pachinko in English, Korean, or Japanese at first?
Definitely not, but I appreciate the fact that you asked the question. I sincerely hope we deceived you. We wrote it in English, and then it went through a lengthy and difficult translation process into Japanese and Korean.
On stage at the Golden Globes in 2020, site director Bong Joon-ho famously boasted about conquering “the 1-inch-tall barrier of subtitles.” What are your thoughts on subtitles and how do you approach them?
After playing Pachinko, my perspective has completely changed. What’s fascinating is that you realise that for a long time, people all around the world have been watching American entertainment with subtitles. And now it’s us who are saying, “Oh, maybe it’s not so bad.”
We still have a lot of work to do, in my opinion. I believe we still need to overcome the impression in America and the West that subtitles are difficult to read or that those shows are difficult to watch. But to see people appreciate a concert like this…this would have never happened five years ago. As a result, I believe we’ve made a significant step forward.
Why do you believe there is now a wider acceptance of foreign content?
I have to give the streamers a lot of credit. When you have the flexibility to do whatever you want and don’t have to pay $20 to go to the movies, why would you go to the movies? “Let me try out this show in Spanish if there’s no risk.” Let me give the show a shot in Korean. And if I don’t care for it, I can simply click away.” It doesn’t seem as stressful any longer. Then you realise, “Wait a minute, this show is actually good,” once you’ve gotten someone to click. And for Netflix and Apple to put as much foreign content online as they do…it suddenly doesn’t feel so marginalised.
P.S. Keep a watch out for Hugh’s next project, White Darkness, which is based on a New Yorker piece by David Grann on an Antarctic trip.