On March 25, the first season of Pachinko — for which Kang-Lowe serves as an executive producer — will arrive on Apple TV+ in a vastly different landscape and in three languages. Television shows from around the world, including South Korea’s Squid Game, the Paris-set Lupin, and the U.S.-Mexico drama Narcos: Mexico, have found rabid audiences on Netflix. These shows have proved that contrary to decades of conventional Hollywood wisdom, viewers are willing to read subtitles and eager to consume global stories centering on people of color.
While Pachinko could ride this larger wave of global representation to success, the show is still a precarious risk for Apple TV+ and its filmmakers: it’s a trilingual, big-budget period piece that hopes to attract audiences without superheroes, sex, or dramatic action sequences. Pachinko’s ability to find viewers could have a ripple effect on whether similar concepts are greenlit for years to come. “Right now, stories about diverse people are largely relegated to a certain budget level,” says Kang-Lowe. “Pachinko is a first, and we don’t want it to be an only.”
Pachinko is the second novel by Lee, who is Korean American and, several decades ago, became fascinated by the struggles of Korean immigrants in Japan in the 20th century. She wove together the story of one family across four generations, through the Japanese colonization of Korea, the impact of the atomic bombs on Japan, and the Westernization of Japanese life. The main character is Sunja, who is born in the early 1900s and stoically absorbs the suffering of everyone around her as she perseveres through one crisis after another.
There were many factors working against Kang-Lowe and Hugh as they began shopping the concept around to streaming services. Not only did the show need to have an all-Asian cast, but it also needed to be told in three languages: Korean, Japanese, and English, as its characters migrated across the world.
For the audience to distinguish the differences between Korean and Japanese, the subtitles are displayed in yellow and blue respectively and English subtitles are in white.