When production designer Mara LePere-Schloop first met with Soo Hugh in L.A. for Pachinko, she hadn’t yet read Min Jin Lee’s New York Times bestselling novel on which the series would be based. Her initial draw to the project, then, was the “magnetism” of the show’s creator, writer and EP, and her profound “passion” for the story it was telling.
LePere-Schloop began reading the book on her flight back home to New Orleans, and it was at this point that she started to ask herself what she’d gotten herself into. “The story was so incredible, but it’s so vast and epic. I was equal parts super excited and also horrified,” the production designer admits. “I was like, ‘This is going to be so hard.’ But I think at that point, I had bit. I was like, ‘I have to do this, but I think this might kill me.’”
Pachinko is a sweeping international drama series that spans generations and is told across three languages—Korean, Japanese and English. It 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. Starting in Japan-occupied South Korea in the early 1900s, the story is told through the eyes of a remarkable matriarch, Sunja, who is intent on fighting for a better life, and triumphs against all odds. Minha Kim plays the teenage version of the character Hugh refers to as the show’s “beating heart,” with Yu-na playing a childhood version and Oscar-winning Minari star Youn Yuh-jung playing an older version. Hugh recently sat down with Kim and LePere-Schloop for a conversation as part of Deadline’s video series, The Process, to examine both the process of bringing the show’s world to life, and the experience of living within it.
In conversation on The Process, Hugh and LePere-Schloop discuss their intention of bringing a “gritty and visceral” reality to Pachinko, while treating the story with “dignity.” They also get into the “period of isolation and confusion early in the pandemic” and how it ended up benefitting the show; location scouts in Japan, Korea and Canada, which led to a shoot in the latter two countries; historical research, and minor miracles in set construction; shooting at a UNESCO World Heritage site, and building the show’s stunning ’80s Pachinko parlor “from scratch” in Vancouver; visualizing the Great Kantō earthquake of 1923 for Episode 7; and their efforts throughout production to “get as much scope and detail into the series as possible.”
Kim speaks for her part to her favorite sets and Sunja scenes, seeing elements of history she’d only read about or heard about from her mother come to life before her eyes on set, working with the show’s global cast and crew to tell a specifically Korean story, the very different approaches that directors Kogonada and Justin Chon brought to their work on Pachinko, the joy of dancing barefoot in the series’ title sequence, and more.
Pachinko debuted to critical acclaim on Apple TV+ in March, and was renewed for a second season the following month. The series also stars Lee Min-Ho, Jin Ha, Soji Arai, Anna Sawai, Jimmi Simpson aand more. Hugh serves as showrunner and exec produces alongside Kogonada and Chon, Michael Ellenberg and Lindsey Springer for Media Res, Theresa Kang-Lowe for Blue Marble Pictures, and Richard Middleton. David Kim and Sebastian Lee serve as co-executive producers.
Watch Hugh’s entire conversation with LePere-Schloop and Kim above.