‘Pachinko’ Kogonada Director Yuh-Jung Youn Breaks Down Emmy-Worthy Rice Scene

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In the third episode of Apple TV+ Pachinko adaptation, the 1989 storyline at first glance appears to be about Solomon simply recruiting his grandmother, Sunja, to convince a landowner to sell his Tokyo land to his bank. But a simple bite of ricegrew up at home in Korea, upended that grand plan in unexpected ways, triggering as he did a flood of memories, good and bad, for Sunja.

TVLine spoke with Oscar winner Yuh-Jung Youn and director Kogonada about how the quiet scene went from around not cling to the past, cling to the past you.

YUH-JUNG YOUN | I remember [showrunner] Soo Hugh calls me, to say that this scene, about the difference between Korean rice and Japanese rice, is very meaningful to her. Rice is very important to Korean people, as [Americans’] bread.

KOGONADA | It’s such a pivotal scene that affects the whole series. It surprises all the characters, and that’s what’s so interesting about it. The dynamic and the way things evolve between the three of them was really sweet. You see Solomon reveling in the grandmothers’ connection, not realizing that the more they connect, the more it’s going to upset his agenda.

YOUNG | When Sunja follows her grandson for the first time [to this house], she is there to help him pursue this landowner, to sell his property. But after tasting this rice, all these good memories, and bad, get back to her, long before she came to Japan.

KOGONADA | What’s great is this quiet scene with so much drama seeping below the surface. It is also foreshadowing things that we will live [in Episode 4, when Young Sunja and Isak are treated to white rice after their wedding] but are a thing of the past. It was the shine of the way Soo [Hugh] constructed this series differently from the book, taking it out of the linear passage of time.

YOUNG | Sunja was a 74-year-old woman at the time, and she had had a very complicated and dramatic life. And with this taste of rice, his memory came back to all those times. Soo Hugh did a great job, so I had no problem expressing my feelings. It was very valuable to me.

KOGONADA | When I spoke to YJ, she understood the meaning of this scene and knew it better than me. And when you’re dealing with actors like YJ and Hye-jin [Park, as landowner Han Geum-ja], these two elderly women lived part of this history, so they have it on their face and in their being. I said it before, YJ’s face is like a map of Korea, so you light up the scene and give the actors the space to really present it. You don’t need to add your own “effect”.

YOUNG | Kogonda [who directed Episodes 1,2, 3 and 7] always asked us to do all the scenes from top to bottom, to the end, like a play — which sometimes [with longer scenes] is very boring! [Laughs] But with this scene, it was very useful.

KOGONADA | When you go up and down, things build. In movies and especially TV, things can get choppy, but this scene felt like a play in many ways – you had three people, one play, and it was written to be delivered that way. Also, I’m someone who likes to go back to the master [wide shot] throughout the scene. That way you really see the dynamic between the three, which continually changes in terms of who gets caught between the other two.

YOUNG | Sunja ends up cracking up because her sister-in-law has just died. She always admired and resected Kyunghee, who always wanted to go home [to Korea], then all of a sudden she bursts into tears and my grandson says, “What’s going on?” When you’re young, you can control yourself — “He’s a person I’m seeing for the first time, so I’m going to have some manners and hide my feelings” — but she just exploded over the rice. Reliving these memories, good or bad, she wants to go home.

KOGONADA | This traumatic thing happened to Sunja, but the way she lived her life, she goes on and on. She hasn’t quite dealt with the emotions of losing this amazing sister-in-law and friend, and suddenly this moment becomes all about her emotional connection to the past. Solomon’s expectation was that Sunja will give this message of not clinging to the past, and immediately the past clings to her.

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