Consider This Brunch: ‘Pachinko’ Team Wanted Scenes Set in the Past to Feel Present — ‘They Are Us’

The stars and creative team of the Apple TV+ hit sat down for a panel at IndieWire's Consider This FYC Brunch.
Michael Ellenberg, Theresa Kang-Lowe, Justin Chon, Jin Ha, Min-ha Kim and Steve Greene speak onstage at the IndieWire Consider This FYC Brunch held on May 12th, 2022 in Los Angeles, California.
Michael Ellenberg, Theresa Kang-Lowe, Justin Chon, Jin Ha, Min-ha Kim, and Steve Greene speak onstage at the IndieWire Consider This FYC Brunch
John Salangsang for IndieWire

Want to see the idea of the “period epic” shaken up? Look no further than “Pachinko.”

Hot off the success of the recent Season 1 finale (and Season 2 renewal), some of the cast and crew of the Apple TV+ hit sat down with IndieWire’s Steve Greene at the IndieWire Consider This Brunch today for a discussion about the hit series. The panel included director Justin Chon, stars Jin Ha and Minha Kim, and executive producers Theresa Kang-Lowe and Michael Ellenberg.

“Pachinko” is based on the New York Times-bestselling novel of the same name by Min Jin Lee. It follows multiple generations of a Korean family who emigrate to Japan, jumping back and forth in time to tell their story over the course of a century.

The “century-spanning” nature of the story created major production challenges, but it also spurred the essential creative vision for the production team. It was important for the nonlinear series that “past and present would be playing in real-time,” Kang-Lowe said.

“When you see period pieces, they tend to be inaccessible, they’re presentational,” Chon said. “But I wanted the audience to be viscerally living this time. We used anamorphic lenses and handheld cameras to increase the immersion. We wanted it to be relatable and accessible. Anamorphic lenses allow you to get close to the characters but see their environment.”

Showing that the struggles of the past are struggles still being faced was paramount. “The show was emphatic about finding what’s similar about these environments and time periods rather than focusing on what’s different,” Ellenberg said. “We didn’t want to create a refined, still sensibility for the past. We wanted to show, no, they are us.”

The practicalities of the shoot underlined that ethos: Korea had to stand in for Japan, as production for the Japan-set scenes began right as the pandemic started. So almost everything had to be created. “1989 Tokyo or Osaka doesn’t exist anymore, 1915 Korea doesn’t exist anymore,” Chon said. “So everything in this show is completely built.”

That resulted in all of the settings having a personal touch. For actor Jin Ha, that meant he “felt like he was living in old photographs of his grandparents.”

“Pachinko” debuted to rave reviews when it premiered on Apple TV+ in March. Critics were quick to praise the show’s strong performances and directing, as well as its ability to feel intimate while maintaining an epic scale. The series spans more than seven decades and three countries, with characters on the show speaking Korean, Japanese, and English. It was created by Soo Hugh, with Kogonada and Justin Chon splitting directing duties on the first season. It stars Lee Min-Ho, Minha Kim, Youn Yuh-jung, Jin Ha, Soji Arai, and Anna Sawai.

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