Something fresh is coming to our television screens soon, with Apple securing the rights to Pachinko, a novel by Korean American author Min Jin Lee. In case you missed it, Lee’s character-driven tale is one of CBC’s picks for best international fiction books of 2017, thanks to its thoughtful look into the experiences of Korean migrants in Japan. Touted as the first novel written for an English-speaking adult audience focusing on Japanese-Korean culture and described as “passionate, dramatic, and moving,” Pachinko examines the complicated relationship between the two neighboring countries.
Variety confirms that the bestselling novel will be adapted into a series, with Lee serving as one of the series’ executive producers. She will take the helm along with The Terror showrunner Soo Hugh. The American producer, who developed The Whispers, will also write the script. The series will be produced by Michael Ellenberg’s Media Res.
The Apple drama will reportedly carry a sizable budget, with Hollywood Reporter revealing that the series will be epic in scope. It will also feature a predominantly Asian cast, purportedly due to the success of the film Crazy Rich Asians (2018). Additionally, the series, whose rights Apple secured after a multiple-outlet bidding war, will be told in three languages: Korean, Japanese, and English.
Although a production like this has not been done in the past, Apple’s substantial investment in the series might just turn out to be a smart one. That’s in light of the relative success of the aforementioned Crazy Rich Asians, and Train to Busan (2016) before it. The latter, in particular, was such an overwhelming success that it has since spawned a sequel: Peninsula (2020) which is currently being filmed. Its predecessor has risen to be one of the best in the zombie genre, and is proof that something from the East can achieve worldwide success. That level of success is what Apple is aiming for — and if Pachinko the series can replicate on TV the same enthralling storylines it executed as a novel, with its deep familial and cultural undertones, is unlikely that Apple’s investment will go to waste.
Assuming the best, Pachinko will give viewers an in-depth look at Korean and Japanese culture. Of note, though, is the use of the pachinko as a plot device, one that Lee explains in an interview with Adam Morgan from the Chicago Review of Books. “The book was initially titled Motherland,” Lee admits, “and it changed to Pachinko because nearly every Korean-Japanese person I interviewed or researched was somehow related to the pachinko business, one of the very few businesses Koreans were allowed to work in or have an ownership interest.” Pachinko has a rich history, with ExpatBets explaining how pachinko machines were originally created back in the 1920s. The game evolved into a popular pastime starting in the 1930s, and has since become one of the Japan’s favorite games. For anyone that isn’t familiar with pachinko, it is a cross between a pinball and slot machine, where small metal balls drop randomly amidst a maze of brass pins. That’s why it is a perfect metaphor for the ricochet whims of fate, which Lee masterfully explores on print, and soon, through television.
With Apple securing the rights to the series, it is now up to Hugh and Ellenberg to make sure that this adaption is as good — or even better — than the original. There’s a good chance it will, given their track record, so the upcoming Pachinko series will definitely be a must-watch.