Over halfway through its season, Pachinko finally introduces us to Hana, she of the many mysterious and insistent phone calls, in an episode that tightens that which binds characters while simultaneously using Hana’s predicament to add urgency as the season races to its close.
“Chapter Six” opens in 1975 Osaka as Hana walks the perimeter of a schoolyard, looking in at a teenage Solomon. Hana wears a different school uniform than the girls who gather around Solomon and his friends, and when she approaches them, she tells a bewildered Solomon that she’s come to show these girls that Solomon is hers. Together, the two head to a convenience store where Hana stalks the aisles, aggressively squeezing onigiri. When the shopkeeper’s back is turned, she tells Solomon to shoplift a piece of candy to prove that he cares for her. Though reticent, Solomon acquiesces. Of course, as the two try to sail out of the store, only Solomon is caught by the shopkeeper, who calls the cops, slipping in a few choice jabs about Koreans in the process.
In the police station, Mozasu comes to take Solomon home. He begs the police officer not to call Solomon’s school and inform them of the shoplifting charge. The cop is stubborn, looking unlikely to drop the issue, when he receives a mysterious phone call instructing him to let Solomon go. The cop tells Solomon he’s lucky to have friends in high places, but as Solomon and Mozasu leave the police station, it’s obvious that Solomon has no idea who could have placed such a call on his behalf. My guess: Koh Hansu, who cannot extricate himself from Sunja’s life, but the show doesn’t confirm this hunch. Instead, Mozasu stands outside the police station and tells Solomon he’s sending him to America. Solomon protests — he doesn’t want to leave Hana — but Mozasu is firm. Solomon must go abroad to forgo any bad influences.
In 1989, Etsuko and Mozasu sit in a doctor’s office, where they are told Hana has AIDS and is going to die. The doctor says that he cannot treat her until a younger doctor steps in and volunteers to take care of Hana in the hospital so she can forgo home treatment. For the rest of the episode, a convalescent Hana acts as a hub, with each of her relationships extending outward in spokes to carry the story forward.
First, there’s Solomon, who tries to convince Hana to go to the U.S. for better treatment. It’s a scene that underscores Solomon’s continuous naïveté, a naïveté I hoped he’d left behind when he told the landowner not to sign at the negotiations two episodes ago, but alas. Hana tells Solomon she’s not going to the U.S. Instead, she’s just going to die. When Solomon looks thunderstruck, she softens the blow by saying she’s joking, but we already know there are no medical cures for Hana’s condition. She tells Solomon that after he left, she used to look at the fancy homes of rich people and imagine what life would be like if she had grown up in a house like that. A man who lived in such a house gave her AIDS, and when Solomon grimaces, she tells him he has to look at her. He must see her and understand how she lived her life. As a parting blow, she tells him that he will never be Japanese, but it seems less a taunt and more a plea for him to stop chasing an impossible, cruel standard.
With these words, we watch Solomon walk head held high through Shiffley’s to empty his office. Naomi watches him but makes no move to get up and say hello. Tom Andrews closes his blinds to avoid making eye contact. When Solomon finally leaves the building, he throws his box full of files into a fountain in frustration. His figure is obscured and abstract in the rippled surface, a projection of his own roiling self-image and inner turmoil. Suddenly, he’s approached by Mamoru Yoshii. Yoshii has been a figure in the background for most of the episodes up till this point; he’s some kind of business executive wreathed in whispers of corruption and shady dealings. Yoshii knows who Solomon is and points out that they both have bad reputations. Later, sharing a cab, the two have a bilingual conversation in English and Japanese, showcasing how they were both educated abroad and are their family’s respective “investments.” Yoshii invites Solomon to join him in a business venture: bringing pachinko to the world. Pachinko, the gambling arcade game, is what Solomon’s father makes his living in, an industry Solomon has tried to avoid, but even so, it’s clear Solomon sees the potential financial opportunities in what Yoshii offers. When Solomon asks Yoshii if the venture would be legal, Yoshii sidesteps the question by answering that he loved his grandfather, who saved him from his drug-addicted father but was also involved in the criminal underworld. Yoshii says he’s not ashamed of his grandfather, but he also tells Solomon that they don’t need to walk in their family’s shadows.
Meanwhile, Hana is being snarky to her mother, asking where her “Yakuza” boyfriend is. Etsuko responds that just because Mozasu owns a pachinko parlor doesn’t mean he’s Yakuza. Hana is undeterred. She keeps needling her mother, making cruel remarks about how Etsuko slept with other men while she was with Mozasu. Sunja arrives and takes over Hana’s sponge bath. Hana tries to get a rise out of Sunja, too, telling her Solomon would be furious if he knew it was Sunja who told Hana to run away from home. Sunja looks blankly at Hana, and for a moment, the vitriolic, acid-tongued girl loses control. How could Sunja not remember that she told Hana it was good that Solomon left so that he wouldn’t be ruined by them? Realization crests across Sunja’s face. She tells Hana she didn’t mean that Hana would ruin Solomon. She meant that she would ruin Solomon. She knows this because she had another son once, whose life she ruined.
Later, Etsuko and Hana share a touching moment, almost a reconciliation, as Etsuko spoon feeds Hana and assures her she’ll always be her Hana, no matter her illness or sores on her face. Outside, Sunja unboxes a gorgeous spread of banchan and invites Solomon to sit with her. He refuses to eat and then blames Sunja for his lost job. He accuses her of making him pity the landowner (Mrs. Han, named for the first time in the subtitles in this episode), which made him weak. They have a truly frustrating exchange where Solomon lobs many unfair accusations, ignoring the gorgeous meal his grandmother brought with her. But Sunja doesn’t take it lying down; she tells him that she too could have lived a life of unspeakable wealth once upon a time, but she turned it down. She couldn’t bear to live a split life, one half of which she could share, the other half of which she couldn’t. She reminds a stricken Solomon that it isn’t the success that matters but rather how you come by that success.
In 1931, Yoseb is furious with Kyunghee for bringing him shame by paying his debts. He stalks off, still angry when Sunja’s water breaks. In a different part of town, Isak is entreated by a widow who asks him to speak to her son, who is refusing to speak to her and seems to be engaging in potentially dangerous or illegal activity. When Isak finds the young man, instead of counseling the boy, Isak is on the receiving end, as the young man expresses the profound sense of disillusionment, exhaustion, and anger he feels being exploited by the Japanese. Mulling these things over, Isak returns home to find his wife in labor. Kyunghee tells him to go find Yoseb; there’s nothing for him to do in the house just then. As the door shuts behind Isak, Sunja unleashes the scream she’d been holding back. This will be far from an easy labor, it seems.
Yoseb is drinking in a bar under the streetcar station that rattles with every passing car. He is drunk, loudly proclaiming that he comes from a noble family, for which the other patrons ridicule him. When Isak finds him, Yoseb is on the brink of starting a bar fight, but when Isak tells Yoseb that Sunja is in labor, the two hunker down to share a drink.
The mood in the bar is cheerful and raucous until a pair of Japanese police officers enter to essentially shake down the Korean bargoers. As the police roughly search bags and pockets, Isak makes a move to get up and say something but is held back by Yoseb. Later, when Isak asks why Yoseb did such a thing, Yoseb chastises his brother for taking responsibility for everything, including Sunja. Isak stops in his tracks and tells his older brother never to speak about Sunja that way again. Yoseb apologizes, but Isak continues that Sunja saved his life, and that she makes him feel like he can be worthwhile. Isak wants to make the world a better place for his children, himself, and Yoseb. When they return to their home, Sunja has given birth to a baby boy: Noa, the son that 1989 Sunja described as having ruined his life.
The next morning, Sunja is beatific as she nurses her new son and Isak dotes on his wife and child, bringing them breakfast. The scene is domestic, beautifully lit, peaceful, and perfectly depicts a happy new family. Meanwhile, Koh Hansu tells his icily beautiful Japanese wife that he has a son. This means his wife no longer needs to perform her conjugal duties to him. Koh’s wife concedes that this is a relief but doesn’t let him off the hook before saying it doesn’t matter that she no longer has to sleep with him, as he’s already defiled her body. As Koh tries to leave, she asks him what his precious new son will think of a man like him.
•Hana is an interesting character because her perspective shows us other hurdles within Japanese society, not just Koreanness. Hana is the child of a single, divorced mother when such a thing would have been extremely stigmatized. While Solomon opted for exceptionalism to outweigh his Koreanness, Hana dwells in her otherness, sitting firmly in it as she peers at obstacles of gender and class.
It’s not interesting at this point to say Youn Yuh-jung is an excellent actress, but I have to say, the moment where Sunja says to Hana she was talking about herself and then when Sunja faces off against Solomon, both of these moments will stay in my heart a long, long time. Not to mention, this is the first episode where we see Youn do an extensive scene in Japanese and god! She is a multilingual marvel!!!
• I shrieked at the screen out of frustration when Solomon accused his grandmother of causing him to lose his job. I know he’s naïve and learning, but there are times when I can’t help but wonder if Solomon’s naïveté is the true villain of the show.
• In general, I am a sucker for birth scenes, but this one really knocked me out with its urgency and beauty. Also, I KNEW that the lady who kept pigs in the neighborhood would get her moment! Hooray, Neighborhood Lady Who Keeps Pigs!!
• Initially, I went on and on about how hot Koh Hansu was, but I am now solidly team Isak in his comfy clothes. Nothing more attractive than a man who takes care of his beloveds.