The Big Picture
- Anna Sawai delivers a standout performance as Naomi in Apple TV’s Pachinko and her character is a new addition to the TV adaptation.
- Sawai’s character, Naomi, is a Harvard businesswoman who faces discrimination in the workplace and becomes an ally to Solomon, the protagonist.
- Sawai’s performance in Pachinko is praised for being foxy, sweet, and intelligent, and she is expected to appear in upcoming projects like Shōgun.
Monarch: Legacy of Monsters is no stranger to being one of the hottest buzzworthy binges on Apple TV. Following the secret members of the human organization Monarch, the show features an ensemble cast from Kurt Russell to the rising actress Anna Sawai. Sawai plays Cate Randa, a Japanese American schoolteacher who suddenly finds out her missing father has another family in Japan. This traumatic discovery leads Cate and her half-brother Kentaro (Ren Watabe) on a treacherous journey to uncover their father’s true identity, all while encountering Titans, or Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organisms (MUTOs) — aka otherworldly monsters!
The New Zealand-born actress first rose to fame for being a J-Pop idol as one of the lead vocalists of the girl group Faky from 2013 to 2018. Sawai has since appeared in some major projects like F9: The Fast Saga and her more underrated performance in the multi-generational saga Pachinko. Also produced by Apple TV, the book-to-TV adaptation was directed by Kogonada and Justin Chon in 2022 and went on to receive critical acclaim, including an Emmy nomination! Sawai delivers a foxy, mysterious, and intelligent performance, often giving the protagonist a run for her money.
Based on the New York Times bestseller, this sweeping saga chronicles the hopes and dreams of a Korean immigrant family across four generations as they leave their homeland in an indomitable quest to survive and thrive.
- Release Date
- March 25, 2022
- Soo Hugh
- Jin Ha , Soji Arai , Jun-woo Han , In-ji Jeong
- Main Genre
What is the Story of Apple TV’s ‘Pachinko’ About?
Pachinko is a four-generation, historical, sweeping epic based on the national best-selling novel of the same name written by Min Jin Lee. The story’s origin is all wrapped around the grueling life of Kim Sunja, played by Youn Yuh-jung, Kim Min-ha, and Yu-na, and how her family deals with the discrimination of Korean immigrants during the 20th century in Japan. The show jumps from the past to the present day in 1989 New York City, where the audience follows Solomon Baek (Jin Ha), Sunja’s grandson, who travels to Japan to solidify a business deal. But it is back in the mid-1910s that the narrative commences into an explosive, life-defying chronicle.
As a child, Sunja is raised by her single mom after her father passes away, and the two take over the family lodging business in Yeongdo, a small island in the second-largest city of Busan. Sunja, now sixteen, is then pursued by a handsome Korean businessman, Koh Hansu (Lee Min Ho), from Osaka. After Hansu saves Sunja from a beating, the two regularly meet in secret where Sunja learns through his stories about Hansu’s life as a permanent Korean resident living in Japan. Hansu manipulates Sunja by using her body for pleasure, repeatedly sexually assaulting her weekly. Soon, Sunja becomes pregnant and is abandoned by Hansu who has a wife in Japan.
Sunja’s mother convinces her to marry the sick minister, Baek Isak (Noh Sang-hyun), staying at their boarding house in order to give the baby a name. After their quick marriage, Sunja travels to Osaka to live with her new husband’s brother and wife. Forced to live in a small ghetto, Sunja’s life is turned upside down as she experiences the harsh discrimination against Koreans in Japan and starts to make a living for her family by selling jars of kimchi.
Who Is Naomi in ‘Pachinko’?
Sawai’s character, Naomi, comes in during the present time just as Solomon arrives in Osaka. Originally, Naomi was not featured in the novel and is a brand-new addition to the story of the TV adaption (Naomi replaced the appearance of Solomon’s girlfriend, Phoebe, from the novel). Sawai portrays a Harvard businesswoman, after Japan implemented an equal employment opportunity law, working at the Japanese branch of Solomon’s finance company. When Solomon arrives in Osaka, he is conflicted between his two identities, being a Korean American and a Japanese Korean. His inner conflicts are reflected in his work performance when he is pressured to close a deal with an elderly Korean woman who refuses to sell her land.
At first, Naomi acts as his rival, snickering at the respect Solomon receives from his male co-workers. As a Japanese woman, Naomi has very little room to move up in the ranks as much as Solomon can just from one deal, but they both quickly come to realize their common enemy lies within the company’s integrated discrimination. Solomon and Naomi are both oppressed by Japanese society, especially in their jobs, and through their struggles, they are brought together as allies. Toward the end of season 1, Solomon rebels against his company and stands up for the elderly Korean woman and what he believes in — having had a revelation about his grandma’s history, his heritage, and his present identity. Naomi later catches him dancing in the rain that day, empowering her to change her views too.
In an interview with The New York Times, Sawai, speaks about how her initial desire to play Naomi was heavily influenced by her mother’s racial experience in the workplace:
“My mom was actually working around the same time and went through similar things that Naomi did — you know, not being taken seriously and just expected to stay at a company for three or four years until they get married to one of the guys working there”.
What Projects Are Next for Anna Sawai?
Although the fate of Naomi’s character hasn’t ended just yet, Pachinko‘s confirmed season 2 will most likely explore the aftermath of Solomon’s actions. Naomi’s next moves as a motivated woman to climb up the ranks in a dominated male office, and flesh out the rest of the riotous backstory of Solomon’s grandma Sunja. Nevertheless, Anna Sawai delivers a standout performance in the first season — often outshining the main characters’ scenes. Sawai’s portfolio will only soar higher if she continues to star in narratives that challenge her to stand out beyond conventional roles. The New Zealand actor is expected to appear in the highly anticipated historical drama called Shōgun set to premiere on Hulu and FX on February 27.
Pachinko is available to watch on Apple TV now in the U.S.
Watch on Apple TV+