19 Key Differences Between Apple TV’s Pachinko Series & The Book

Prepare yourself for Season 2.

Originally Published: 
Minha Kim and Steven Sanghyun Noh in 'Pachinko,' Apple TV's adaptation of Min Jin Lee's bestselling ...
Apple TV+

Apple TV’s Pachinko, the adaptation of Min Jin Lee’s bestselling 2017 novel, was renewed for another season on April 29, the same day of the Season 1 finale. The series is a sweeping and harrowing tale of one Korean family’s journey through the Japanese occupation. The eight-episode series follows the life of Sunja (played by Oscar-winner Youn Yuh-jung), a Zainichi (ethnic Korean) woman, and her forbidden romance, immigration, motherhood, and more.

Of course, tweaks from book-to-series are to be expected, especially when adapting a novel of this magnitude; it’s 490 pages divided into three parts spanning eight decades. (The series is also similarly massive, with 637 cast members and a budget similar to The Crown’s, which reportedly nets at $13 million per episode.) For starters, the most obvious difference is the English-language novel is told in three languages — Korean, Japanese, and English. Here are 19 more differences between the source material and the Apple TV+ series to acquaint yourself with before Season 2 arrives. Warning: This post is filled with spoilers.

Sunja’s Story Isn’t Told The Same Way

Courtesy of Apple

Perhaps the biggest difference fans of the book will notice is the format. The series, set in 1989, tells Sunja’s story in flashback format, jumping between her life as a 74-year-old grandmother to her early years in Busan, Korea, and Osaka, Japan.

It’s a diversion from its source material, which develops chronologically over a long stretch of time, even opening with Sunja’s father’s childhood. The book is also divided into three parts, following Sunja’s childhood to her teenage years and marriage, her life as a mother in Osaka, and her later years as a grandmother.

Speaking about the new format, showrunner Soo Hugh told Time, “The greatest thing about film and TV is playing with time.” She added, “All of a sudden, when we moved things around, the show became a thesis statement of, How do you have a conversation with the past? How do you, from the past’s point of view, leave something indelible for the future?”

Solomon Isn’t As Visible Or Driven

Because the Pachinko show is set in its present-day of 1989, a younger character gets a bigger story arc than in the book: Sunja’s grandson Solomon (Jin Ha). In the series, Solomon guns for a promotion to vice president at a New York bank by offering to close a difficult deal in Japan. And viewers watch him try to convince an elderly Korean woman to sell the property to secure his promotion. The series follows Solomon as he navigates the discrimination Koreans face in Japan, pines for a former flame, and contends with his family’s history, particularly his father’s pachinko (a pinball-like machine) parlor business.

In the book, however, Solomon isn’t a major character, and he’s definitely not self-assured, having only been out of college for a year. In fact, it’s only after he goes back to Japan that he learns about this property deal handled by his boss. Until he’s asked to help, his role is mostly relegated to taking down meeting minutes.

There Were Fewer Rebellion Scenes

Scenes portraying resistance against Japanese rule are some of the more emotional scenes in the series. They were also created entirely for Apple TV+. In one of Sunja’s flashbacks in Episode 1, the police track down one of the lodgers at her family’s boarding house after drunkenly criticizing Japan’s rule in Korea. Though a young Sunja advises him to escape, by the end of the episode, he gets caught and begins singing in Korean as a form of resistance. While there were fishermen brothers residing at the boarding house who became friendly with a teenage Sunja, none of that happened in the book.

Similarly, in another flashback in Episode 4 aboard an Osaka-bound ship, a Korean performer on deck switches her Japanese song to a Korean one. When guards are called on her, she stabs herself with a knife. That character was made for the show, and there was no mention of Sunja and Isak’s time aboard the ship in the novel.

Solomon Has New Officemates

Courtesy of Apple

Solomon’s officemate Naomi (played by Anna Sawai, a former member of the J-pop group FAKY) and boss Tom Andrews (Westworld’s Jimmi Simpson) are entirely new characters created for streaming.

In the book, Solomon’s boss is a Japanese named Kazu who takes Solomon — his “young Jedi” — under his wing and invites him to monthly poker games. Kazu later fires Solomon after using his connections.

Solomon Has A Girlfriend

Courtesy of Apple

Solomon is single in the series and still pining for his teenage love, Hana, but in the book, Solomon is in a serious relationship with his college girlfriend, Phoebe, a Korean-American. She even moves to Japan with him and meets his clan. Though they were initially thinking of getting married, they eventually break up after a few months because she wants to go back to the U.S. and he could not.

Hansu & Sunja’s Meeting Goes Differently

In an Episode 1 flashback, a 16-year-old Sunja (played by Minha Kim) catches the eye of fish broker Hansu (Lee Minho), but they don’t speak until Hansu apprehends a fisherman for selling her food that doesn’t pass quality control.

In the book, Hansu is aggressive and cares more about Sunja’s relationship status than the quality of fish. At first, he ogles openly, scandalizing some of the elderly sellers at the market. One even comments how Hansu is old enough to be Sunja’s father. Hansu then trails her on multiple occasions, asking her about home and why she isn’t married. In both instances, Sunja doesn’t respond.

Hansu Is Way More Forward — Albeit Confusing

In another flashback, Hansu and Sunja strike up a friendship after he saves her from an attempted assault. After that, they regularly meet in secret at the cove and develop a romance.

In the book, Hansu seems a little more cunning in his advances. At first, he tells Sunja to call him “oppa,” the Korean term for an older brother, and promises to be her “elder brother and friend.” But in the same conversation, he also tells her how he’s wanted to be with her for a long time. This goes on for three months before they become intimate.

Hansu & Isak Never Meet

In an Episode 4 flashback, Hansu walks in on Isak (Steven Sanghyun Noh), Sunja’s husband-to-be, at the tailor’s. While Isak insists on repairing his old suit because of its sentimental value to the tailor, Hansu interjects by telling him he’ll be judged for what he wears and that he shouldn’t hold onto the past. While Sunja never reveals who her baby’s father is, the tense interaction implies Isak may have an inkling as to Hansu’s identity.

Isak and Hansu never meet and the book, though, and Isak never finds out who the baby’s father is.

Sunja Doesn’t Go Back To Korea

After Kyunghee’s death, Sunja goes back to Korea to spread her sister-in-law’s ashes. She flies with her son Mozasu and enjoys reminiscing back home.

In the book, however, Sunja doesn’t go back to Korea because there are no ashes to throw – Kyunghee doesn’t die. In fact, the very last line of the book is about Sunja and Kyunghee’s sisterhood with Sunja heading back to the house because “Kyunghee would be waiting for her at home.”

Sunja Doesn’t Help Solomon Close The Real Estate Deal

In Episode 3, Solomon enlists the help of his grandmother to convince the elderly landowner to sell. All three even have a stirring conversation over a meal — a pivotal scene that highlights the struggles of each character and the disconnect between generations.

That’s not how it went down in the book, though. In fact, it’s not even Sunja who Solomon runs to for help with the property owner, but his dad, Mozasu (Soji Arai).

Solomon Doesn’t Interfere With The Sale Either

When the woman finally agrees to sell her property, she heads to Solomon’s office to finalize the agreement. But when she asks Solomon, in front of all his colleagues, if he would encourage his own grandmother to do the same, he says no and stops her from signing the contract, jeopardizing his career.

In the book, none of this happens. He doesn’t even meet with the seller at all.

Yangjin And Sunja Reunite

A reunion happens in Episode 5, but it’s not the one from the books. In the series, after Yangjin sends off Sunja at the docks in one of the flashbacks, the mother and daughter never see each other again. By Episode 5, Sunja learns that Yangjin drowned where they used to do laundry.

In the book, however, Yangjin isn’t killed off right away, and she reunites with her daughter in Japan thanks to Hansu. During World War II, Hansu warns Sunja that Osaka will be bombed and arranges for her and her family to flee to a farm in the countryside, where they work in exchange for lodging. There, she reunites with Yangjin, whom Hansu also relocates to Japan. After the war, they all return to Osaka, and Yangjin lives with her daughter until she passes.

Sunja Doesn’t Reunite With Bokhee

In the novel, Sunja only reunites with Yangjin, so Sunja’s heartwarming reunion with her old friend Bokhee (Kim Young-Ok)​​ in Episode 5 doesn’t actually happen. After Sunja leaves for Japan, Bokhee and Dokhee go work in China, and they never return to Busan. Yangjin even alludes to them potentially ending up as sex slaves since she heard women recruited to work in factories in China end up doing “terrible, terrible things with Japanese soldiers.”

Solomon Doesn’t Search For Hana

In the series, Solomon goes door-to-door in the red light district where Hana works to look for her. He even bumps into his dad’s old friend. That doesn’t happen in the source material.

Sunja’s Labor Goes Down Differently

In an Episode 6 flashback, Sunja upsets her brother-in-law, Yoseb (Han Joon-woo), after she pawns her watch to pay for his debts, and he storms off right before her water breaks. While in labor, Sunja orders her husband, Isak, to follow Yoseb at the pub, and he ends up missing Noa’s birth. There, Isak witnesses Japanese soldiers humiliating Korean men and inspecting their belongings. It’s the moment in the series that ignites a radical spark in Isak.

In the book, though, Isak stays throughout the delivery and only talks to Yoseb about the watch incident after Noa is born. Also, Sunja gets help from an actual midwife, not someone who has only birthed her pigs like in the series.

Solomon Doesn’t Get Arrested

In another flashback, Hana coerces a young Solomon to shoplift chocolates at a convenience store. The Japanese store owner catches him and discriminates against him because he’s Korean. The cops even arrest him. It’s only thanks to an unknown caller (likely Hansu) that he’s let off the hook. It’s the incident that prompts Solomon’s dad to send him to the U.S. This doesn’t happen in the book, and Mozasu only sends Solomon to study abroad for better opportunities.

Hansu Doesn’t Have A Backstory

In the penultimate episode, viewers learn that Hansu wasn’t always tough and calculating — at least not until losing his dad during the Great Kantō Earthquake in 1923 and living through the Korean Massacre that immediately followed.

While Hansu gets his own heartbreaking dedicated episode in the series, allowing viewers to sympathize with his character a bit, he doesn’t have much of a backstory in the book. The historical earthquake isn’t mentioned either.

Isak Is Arrested For A Different Reason

In one of the flashback scenes in the series finale, Isak gets arrested for plotting with Korean rebels and being a leader of the Korean resistance.

But it’s his religion — not his politics — that gets him arrested in the book. During a routine police check, one of Isak’s congregation members is caught mouthing The Lord’s Prayer instead of pledging allegiance to the emperor — a grave sin in Imperial Japan. As the boy’s pastor, Isak is arrested along with him.

Noa & Mozasu’s Poignant Storylines Aren’t Included

Fans of the novel know that some of the most poignant scenes involved brothers Noa and Mozasu — Noa’s death, in particular, is especially haunting. But their storylines are barely mentioned in the series. Now that the Pachinko has been greenlit for another season, maybe they’ll focus on that middle generation next.

BONUS: Real-life Zainichi Women Inspired Sunja’s Character

After the finale episode, real-life Zainichi women are interviewed. The women, already in their 90s, recall their lives after migrating to Japan as well as their regrets, if any.

While actual testimonies aren’t included in the book, the author did interview dozens of women to help tell Sunja’s story. Following Lee’s lead, the director tracked down these same women and shared their touching oral testimonies onscreen.

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