It is one of the most delightful movies of this still-young year. It’s got Sandra Oh in the cast and songs by hit-making siblings Billie Eilish and Finneas O’Connell on the soundtrack. And there’s a boy band! And a Giant red panda!
So what’s not to love about Pixar’s “Turning Red”? Plenty, as far as CinemaBlend managing director Sean O’Connell was concerned.
In a mixed review that was posted a few days before the film’s March 11 premiere, O’Connell had a number of gripes.
He was bothered by the plot similarities between “Turning Red” (about a 13-year-old girl who turns into a giant red panda) and 1985’s “Teen Wolf,” in which Michael J. Fox plays a high-school dude who turns into a werewolf. He was a little alarmed by the Raging crushes our heroine and her friends have on the members of their favorite boy band.
And all of that young-woman energy? It wore him out.
But what seemed to bother the White male critic now was that this movie was about an Asian-Canadian girl.
“I recognized the humor in the film, but connected with none of it,” O’Connell wrote. “By rooting‘ Turning Red ’very specifically in the Asian community of Toronto, the film legitimately feels like it was made for (director) Domee Shi’s friends and immediate family members. Which is fine… but also, a tad limiting in its scope. ”
As you might imagine, the reviews of O’Connell’s review were withering. Readers lambasted his critique for being racist and sexist, and by the time the online dust settled, CinemaBlend had removed the review from its website, and O’Connell had issued an Apology.
Fortunately, the Asian-Canadian girl vibe that O’Connell found so alienating turned out not to be a problem for the audience at large. After its premiere on Disney +, “Turning Red” broke the streaming platform’s global record for the total number of hours watched in the first three days.
But in a time when the entertainment industry is attempting to become more demographically diverse while algorithms are steering us toward content they know is in our comfort zone, the questions posed by O’Connell’s review and the resulting backlash linger.
Does something have to be relatable to be entertaining? Can we only connect with what we already know?
My answer is a loud, “No” in both counts. And my proof is “Pachinko.”
This mesmerizing new series from Apple TV + features characters that don’t look like me doing things that I have never done in places I have never seen. Two of the three languages spoken are not my language.
The world of “Pachinko” is not my world, which is exactly why I love it.
Adapted by showrunner Soo Hugh (“The Terror” and “See”) from Min Jin Lee’s 2017 novel of the same name, “Pachinko” tells the multigenerational story of a Korean family trying to survive and thrive in Japanese-occupied Korea and then in Japan from the pre-World War II years into the late 1980s.
There are class struggles and many examples of racism. There is violence and Betrayal, along with deep, abiding love and flashes of humor, both barbed and tender.
It is an epic, in all of the best, now engulfing the Senses of the word.
The center of this sweeping, time-shifting saga is Sunja, played by Yu-na Jeonas a child, the delicately Steely Minha Kim as a teen and a young adult, and the scene-Stealing Yuh-Jung Youn (who won an Oscar for “Minari”) as a grandmother.
When we first meet Sunja, she is a precocious little Korean girl living in a poor fishing village just a ferry ride away from the Japanese-occupied port city of Busan. She grows into a headstrong teenager whose life is wrenched in a life-changing direction by her relationship with a shadowy Korean-born fish broker (Lee Min-ho, “Boys for Flowers”).
The other part of the “Pachinko” story revolves around Sunja’s grandson Solomon (Jin Ha, “Devs”), a Yale-educated New York City finance hotshot who returns to Osaka with the hope of using his Korean roots to close a big real estate deal for his multinational company.
Going back to the Nest is a mixed bag, as he reunites with his beloved grandmother and gets ensnared in a family mystery that could go pretty dark.
As written by the Insightful Hugh and directed with Grace and bristling verve by Justin Chon (“Blue Bayou”) and Kogonada (“After Yang”), the eight episodes glide from decade to decade, from Korean to Japanese to English, from Sunja to Solomon so seamlessly, you will never Wonder where you are or what you are doing there. It is the smoothest ride ever, with a cast of fascinating passengers who whisper cliff-hanging stories in your ear as miles of dazzling scenery unfold before your buggy eyes.
You don’t have to be steeped in the tangled history of Korea and Japan to wince when Solomon’s American boss (Jimmi Simpson, “Westworld”) wonders why everyone can’t just move on already. You don’t have to know what it’s like to live in an occupied country to want this family to Survive both the small indignities and the heartbreaking losses.
And you absolutely don’t have to be Korean or Japanese or fluent in the language of war or high finance to become totally connected to the people of “Pachinko.”
All of the Actors – from the tiny, yet commanding Jeon as young Sunja to the charismatic Ha as the culture-straddling Solomon and the incomparable Youn as the matriarchal Sunja – turn in bone-deep performances that make the big Moments seem intimate and the small Moments hit like a Storm. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself hitting the rewind button just for the Privilege of watching them vault through the fabulous opening-credits sequence one more time.
Like any great story told by anyone from anywhere, once “Pachinko” grabs you, there is no letting go.
“Pachinko” Streams on Apple TV + beginning today.