Why Apple TV's Pachinko Begins Every Episode With A Joyous Dance Number

The first season of "Pachinko" makes for some heavy television, and if the source material is any indication, the next few seasons won't be any lighter. About half the show's early narrative is focused on young Sunja (Minha Kim) as she's forced to leave her home in Japan-occupied Korea in the early 1930s. We know from the storyline going on in the '80s that an older Sunja (Youn Yuh-jung) eventually finds a life of relative peace and comfort, but it's going to be a long, difficult journey before she reaches that point.

"Pachinko" is a show that makes you feel the sometimes oppressive, sometimes comforting presence of time. The show breaks from the book's strict chronological structure and follows multiple timelines at once, which means we get to see the characters in Sunja's family go through vastly different periods of their lives, often within the same episode. "Chapter Four" features both young Sunja's heartbreaking departure from her hometown, then shortly afterward shows us old Sunja's return to the same beach. Even though we don't yet know what exactly happened in the 50-plus years between, the sheer weight of those decades away from home is nearly unbearable.

This is part of why it's fitting for the show's opening title sequence to be set in a pachinko parlor, even though pachinko (a popular Japanese gambling game) has barely been a factor in the show so far. The title sequence features characters from both timelines dancing to a slightly sped-up version of The Grass Roots' "Let's Live for Today," a song that still feels appropriate despite being released 14 years before the 1989 timeline. This dance number seems to take place outside of time, which somehow makes perfect sense.

Celebrating rare moments of joy

Showrunner Soo Hugh explained her reasons behind the title sequence: 

"I wanted one moment where characters of the past and present come together to dance with unfettered joy, honoring the enduring human spirit." 

On a show where everyone seems to be going through some of the most intense periods of their lives, it feels like such a breath of fresh air to see them letting loose together. As Hugh put it, "'Let's Live for Today' celebrates those moments when we can take stock of where we've come from and where we are going while also taking that much-needed breath to appreciate the present." And as the scene where Sunja returns home in "Chapter 4" makes clear, those moments are very much what this show is all about. 

As for the decision to set the sequence in the middle of the pachinko parlor? It feels particularly fitting considering author Min Jin Lee's reasons for choosing the title when writing the source material. Originally the book was titled "Motherland," but she changed it to "Pachinko" after realizing just how often the Korean-Japanese people she interviewed were related to the pachinko business in some way. "Pachinko is a game of chance and manipulation," she explained. It's a gambling game with a lot of loss and pain involved, as well as rare, seemingly unlikely moments of triumph. "I was interested in this gambling business as a metaphor," Lee said. 

It was announced this April that "Pachinko" has been renewed for a second season. We don't know when season 2 will air exactly, but at least we know we'll get to see that delightful title sequence again sometime next year.