In 1931, Sunja arrives at Osaka station, where she meets Yoseb, Isak’s brother. Together, Isak, Sunja, and Yoseb ride a streetcar as Yoseb and Isak talk about the biscuit factory where Yoseb works and the plans to build a subway in Osaka, a new development that Yoseb proclaims will change everything. Beside them, Sunja is wide-eyed, tossed between wonder and bewilderment at her new surroundings, as Isak remarks that it feels as if they’ve leapt into the future.
When the trio reaches Ikaino, the Korean neighborhood of Osaka, Sunja continues to struggle to take it all in. The streets are dark, crowded, and noisy. They seem friendly, filled with chatter and laughter, and yet they also feel dangerous, with pigs snuffling underfoot. By the time Sunja and Isak reach Yoseb’s home, it’s clear Sunja is stunned, exhausted, and unsure of what to make of her surroundings. But Kyunghee’s warm welcome, her face breaking into a beautiful smile upon seeing Sunja, anchors her in the present moment. The couples sit down to eat, and Kyunghee says she’s prepared something special for the occasion. She lifts a lid on a rice bowl to reveal a steaming mound of white rice, the very same delicacy Yangjin prepared for Sunja upon her departure from Busan. Seeing this, Sunja cries, clearly still bereft at the sudden separation from her mother.
Later that night, Yoseb complains to Kyunghee that he doesn’t know what his brother was thinking marrying Sunja. Not to mention, Sunja is much further along in her pregnancy than anyone expected. Yoseb speculates that perhaps Suja trapped Isak. In a different room, lying on a futon together, Sunja and Isak can hear everything their brother and sister-in-law say. Sunja remarks that it seems she’s a disappointment to her new family and that it feels as if this place wants no part of them. Isak, a figure who up until this point has been removed from Sunja’s sorrow in leaving Korea, confesses that he too feels that he is less than welcome in this place — Osaka, Japan, perhaps even his brother’s own home. Isak opens up to Sunja in bed that night. He doesn’t want her to be in debt to him, he says, and when Sunja protests, he tells Sunja that he sees her as a courageous, brave person, someone from whom he can borrow a bit of courage. By marrying Sunja and by naming her unborn child as his own, he’s defied the death that had always haunted his sickly life. He has a chance at a legacy, a family, something that may not be a leap into the future but a link nonetheless. His vulnerability touches Sunja, and the two make love for the first time in a tender scene lit in soft blues and greens.
A month later, Sunja is still getting used to her life in Osaka. She wakes up late, but Kyunghee is kind to her, saying a mother needs sleep to grow a strong baby. Together, they begin to hang laundry when Sunja realizes these are her clothes and that Kyunghee has inadvertently washed away the smell of home that she’d purposefully allowed to linger. Sunja sobs, asking Kyunghee when the ache of missing goes away. Because we have seen Sunja more than 50 years in the future, we know the answer: The ache never goes away.
That day, a pair of debt collectors come to Kyunghee to say Yoseb has incurred a debt of 160 yen and that he has not been able to pay the sum back. Sunja learns from the collectors that the debt was taken on to pay for her and Isak’s passage to Japan and that with interest, the sum has more than doubled. Kyunghee is fearful, dithering, and Sunja steps in, telling the debt collectors she will have the full sum for them by the end of the day. (There’s a distinct, lovely sense of continuity here, a call back to little Sunja bargaining in the fish market.)
Sunja takes the pocket watch given to her by Koh Hansu and sells it for the sum of the debt. As she heads to the debt collector’s office to give him the cash, Kyunghee tries to stop her, telling her it is inappropriate for them to go and pay this debt. Kyunghee, a solid and loving presence up till now, breaks down, saying that she never cooked, cleaned, or handled money before coming to Japan. She confesses that she feels foolish in the face of Sunja’s courage and tenacity. Instead of scolding Kyunghee, Sunja is kind. “Let’s be scared together,” she says to Kyunghee, and here we see that same courage and fortitude Isak spoke about in bed. Her bravery is infectious, and the two women go to the debt collector, who accepts the sum, stamping the debt as repaid.
The women are elated as they return home, laughing as they clutch each other’s arms. But their joy is short-lived when Kyunghee sees a stormy-faced Yoseb waiting in front of their home. Yoseb feels slighted by the women’s action, despite his inability to handle the problem himself. In a different home in Osaka, Koh Hansu greets the pawn-shop owner Sunja sold her pocket watch to. How did Koh know that Sunja would sell the watch, the pawn-shop owner asks. Because she married a dreamer, and so she will struggle, says Koh as he pays off the owner. It doesn’t matter that they’re in Osaka now; it seems Koh Hansu and Sunja’s paths will remain entangled, even if Sunja doesn’t know it.
Meanwhile, in 1989, Sunja wanders through the modern yet still somehow familiar fish market in Busan. Though so much has changed, what matters — the bustle, the fresh fish, the calling of vendors — has stayed the same. Her face is suffused with joy as she points to abalone, boasting to Mozasu that she could pluck bigger clams off the ocean floor at the age of seven. She buys a pair of dried squid though she’s full from the hotel’s breakfast buffet and when her son tries to explain the buffet is a sunk cost, she gives him a withering, if slightly playful, look, saying only someone who grew up rich would say such a thing like that. Same old money-savvy Sunja, it seems.
Sunja scatters Kyunghee’s ashes in the ocean and then goes to find her father’s grave, only to find that the plot has been paved over to build a parking structure. Together, she and Mozasu go to a local bureaucratic office to inquire if the grave was properly moved, but the only thing the bureaucrat can tell her is that there’s a note in the file about her father’s grave with a name and address for Shin Bokhee.
That’s how Sunja finds herself embracing her old friend Bokhee, one of the women hired by her mother to help at the boarding house, now an old lady just like herself. As the two hold each other and cry, the camera zooms out to show their figures dwarfed by the giant apartment complex they stand in, as if to emphasize how much has changed since the two women did laundry together in the stream. Sunja learns from Bokhee that Bokhee and her sister Donghee left Korea to work at a factory in Manchuria during the war. When they returned after the war, Sunja’s mother was gone, and Donghee, unable to reconcile the many changes she had undergone during what’s implied is the brutality of war, committed suicide in the very stream where they used to wash clothes.
Later, Sunja and Mozasu pay their respects at Sunja’s father’s grave, safely moved by Bokhee to a large graveyard. “In the end, I was the lucky one,” Sunja muses, and Mozasu reminds his mother that it is not shameful to have survived. Sunja turns to her son then and asks if they can return home. By home, Sunja means their house in Osaka, and Mozasu seems surprised, remarking they still have two more days left of the trip. Sunja insists she’d still like to go home to Japan. After all, she knows that she can come back now. It’s a quiet moment of bittersweet reclamation. Busan has changed; her parents and Donghee are dead. Osaka has been her home for most of her adult life, but she’s no longer exiled by circumstance to Japan. Sunja can go home, whether it’s to Korea or Japan, as she likes.
Meanwhile, Solomon is blacklisted at every major Japanese bank for his snafu with the Korean landowner. He sees Naomi at a party, who tells him that she saw him dancing in the station. What was that about? Solomon says that at that moment, he felt he could fly away. Again, Solomon’s theme of his struggle to defy gravity returns. Naomi points out that he didn’t fly away, and Solomon agrees. It remains futile to try to buck against the seeming laws of nature.
Then, their previously flirty conversation takes a turn for the tense. Naomi asks Solomon who Hana is. It turns out she’s been eavesdropping on his phone conversations in the office. So Solomon says that Hana was the daughter of his father’s girlfriend, and that Hana broke up with Solomon shortly after he left for the U.S. Naomi remarks that Solomon must like complicated women, like Hana and the landowner. This comment puts Solomon on the defensive. The conversation ultimately ends with Naomi getting up abruptly, leaving Solomon alone.
Solomon goes looking for Hana in a more blue-collar area of Tokyo per a friend’s snide tip. He has no luck, one shopkeeper saying that someone shows up every week with a photo of a girl asking for her whereabouts. Instead, Solomon runs into a man named Haruki, who once knew Solomon’s father. Haruki takes Solomon back to his home, which he shares with people that appear to be a found family of similar societal outcasts.
After a warm meal together, Haruki takes Solomon back to the train station and Solomon offers Haruki some cash. Clearly, the money is a severe and offensive misstep as Haruki’s face hardens. Solomon puts the money away, but the damage is done; Haruki tells Solomon he always felt sorry for him, having to carry the burden of all his family’s hopes and dreams. That night, Tom Andrews fires Solomon unceremoniously over the phone, only to be interrupted by a frantic call from Hana, who wails that she doesn’t want to die alone. If Solomon doesn’t come to find her soon, it’ll be too late.
• It wasn’t immediately clear to me what Haruki’s situation was, why he left his wife and children and who his newfound family was. But if I had to guess, it would be that he’s someone who, through some circumstance, whether mental health or debt-related, decided to disappear from the people who once knew him for the freedom of anonymity.