SPOILER ALERT:Do not read if you haven’t watched Episode 7 of “Pachinko,” now streaming on Apple TV+

Every episode of “Pachinko” tells two different stories. The Apple TV+ epic examines the history of Zainichi, ethnic Korean inhabitants of Japan, through the lens of Sunja, a fish merchant born in Korea during Japanese colonial rule of the country who is forced to immigrate to Japan after becoming pregnant out of wedlock. The original novel by Min Jin Lee traces Sunja’s life chronologically, split into three linear parts. But in adapting that story to television, showrunner and executive producer Soo Hugh chose to blow up that structure and instead follow two different timelines: one in the 1920s when Sunja is a young woman played by Min-ha Kim, and one set in 1989, when Sunja is an elderly woman played by Yuh-jung Youn. Every episode crisscrosses between these time periods, mostly keeping to the text of the original novel while telling the story in a completely different way.

The show makes its biggest departure from the original novel in “Chapter 7,” which changes its format for a flashback episode centered on Hansu (played by superstar Korean actor Min-ho Lee), the merchant with criminal ties who impregnates Sunja with her first child, Noa. The episode depicts Hansu’s life as a young man in Japan, working for a white American family and living with his father, and how his life fell apart when his father was killed during the Great Kantō Earthquake of 1923. Episode director Kogonada depicts the chaos of the earthquake through Hansu’s eyes, focusing particularly on the resulting massacre of Korean people by Japanese military and vigilantes — an event that resulted in the estimated death of 6,000 Koreans.

The story of the episode is completely new to the television series; the original “Pachinko” book kept Hansu’s background a mystery to the audience, and doesn’t directly depict the Kantō Massacre. According to Hugh, although she made sure the backstory didn’t contradict anything from the source material, she saw the process of adaptation as an opportunity to flesh out a side of Hansu readers didn’t get to see.

“Whenever you talk to anyone about the book, conversation always seems to go into Hansu,” Hugh says. “He just takes up so much air because he’s such a compelling character. But there’s very little biographical background given to him in the book, and it works beautifully in the book. But when you make a TV show, when you see actors take on a character, more questions come about of ‘Where did this person come from? Who is he? How did he become the way he is?’ And for Hansu, because he has such a unique point of view on life, we really wanted to dig into that backstory … When I was doing all this research on “Pachinko,” I came across a story to Kantō earthquake, which I have never heard of before. And it is really one of the great disasters of the 20th century, especially when you hear about what happened to Korean population afterwards. All of a sudden, that was Hansu’s story. It just felt so integral to his character.”

With the drop of the 7th episode of “Pachinko,” Variety talked to Hugh about constructing the episode, reinventing a great novel and digging into the forgotten history of the Kantō Massacre.

When you signed on to showrun the series, was the plan always to change the format in order to follow two separate timelines?

Yeah, before I jump on to any projects, I need to know first how you do it, because it doesn’t seem fair to jump onto a project and then figure it out. So when Media Res optioned the novel, we had already talked about my point of view on it, and they were very excited about it. It’s always wonderful, you give this book to 10 different writers and we get 10 different shows, right? That’s why the adaptation process is so interesting. For me, I always felt that the crosscutting to the past and present was the cinematic way to go.

How did you consider constructing this backstory as a standalone episode? Why did you want to place it toward the end of the season? It definitely helps contextualize Hansu’s attitude and personality from the previous episodes.

A great hallmark for television in the last 25 years, when you look at a show like “The Sopranos,” where you live with the characters for so long, you get episodes that often reframes that character and bring that character to life in a different way. What I love about putting this episode near the end is we think we have Hansu figured out and then when you see him as a young man, it completely shifts how you’ve taken in his character. I love that opportunity to have that conversation with the audience, “So now what do you think of him?”

Because “Pachinko” is an American production, did you feel any obligation to explain the history it depicts to them? I imagine a lot of people watching the show will learn about the massacre for the first time from it.

What was amazing is it wasn’t just for an American audience. I’ve had so many conversations with people in Japan and Korea, who didn’t know. So, it’s not even a history that’s known to the people who lived it — it’s a secret history to so many people. And in terms of conceptualizing the history, absolutely. How do you take a period drama that takes place in a very specific time, and without resorting to exposition, make it feel comprehensible to any audience member? Once again, it doesn’t even matter whether you’re American or not. And so what we always said in the show was that history has to feel lived in. We want to use as few chyrons as possible and really bring the audience into the experience with the characters. Especially with this episode, we don’t have any chyrons until the very end of the episode, which really does help the audience get into the episode without feeling like they’re reading a history lesson? Because who wants to read a history lesson on a TV show?

Since this is an original backstory for the character, how did you decide his history? The episode develops his relationship with his father, his white American employers, how did that all come together?

It’s almost like working backwards, which is always fun. We know when we first meet him in the pilot that he is someone who lives in Japan. That he works for a criminal enterprise. And so looking backwards, it’s like, “How did he get into criminal enterprise? What happened to his family?” So it always starts off with questions. And then from those questions, answering them bit by bit. In some ways, we’ve said America is the boogeyman of our show, in our characters’ imaginations. To learn that Hansu wanted to go to America so badly, to have a version of the American Dream, I think it’s very much part of the immigrant story. So to be able to bring that into the episode was exciting. I would say, whenever we do any departure episodes, it has to feel both like a standalone and yet a piece of the series. And so the reference in this show was “let’s make the episode feel like a war film.” When we first meet the characters they emerge from that war, and we see the scars, and now, going back in time, we’re going to see how that battle happened. Kogonada did such a brilliant job directing it, and so much of the visual language of the episode feels like an iconic war film. “Platoon,” “Come and See,” “Empire of the Sun,” and building upon that language.

That idea of it being a war film is interesting. How did the aspect ratio of the episode play into that? The rest of the series is a widescreen format, but for this episode, it switches to 4:3.

4:3 is such a classic ratio, when we think of old-time movies. And it’s so nice as a contrast, so much of our show has a big cinematic feel, and then all of a sudden we come back in and make the screen smaller, you know this episode is going to look different. automatically the audience picks up they’re in for that mode. But what was so great about that choice was it takes you back to those old classic films.

Min-ho Lee, who plays Hansu, is one of the most famous actors in Korea. Can you tell me about casting Min-ho Lee, who is one of the most famous actors in Korea, for the show?

This was a very long casting process, not only because we have a lot of roles to cast, but we also had a lengthy audition process for the characters. When you, as a writer, when you live with characters as long as I have, in your head you visualize them in one way, right? And then you watch them in the audition tapes and either you’re surprised and delighted or you’re just like “No, that person is not right.” And I have to check myself, but part of the magic of making films and TV shows is that actors can bring characters to life in a way that you haven’t expected. And I have to allow myself open to that. So when I think about Chapter 7 especially, Min-ho had never done a series like this before. He’s Korea’s biggest super star. His image is so pristine. And so I’m thinking, “Can he play Hansu or not?” A lot of it was “Let’s see how he does in the audition.” And he was just so gung-ho about wanting to get this part, and had a lot of fun in the audition, and really stretched himself and showed us a side that we’ve never seen of Min-ho, and the world has never seen of Min-ho. And Chapter 7, I think it really an unveiling of what Min-ho can do, what he’s capable of.

Before you signed on to write the show, did you know any Japanese? How did writing scripts that often involve the use of Japanese, Korean and English at once come about?

From the very beginning, I said, “This has to be told in three languages.” I don’t know Japanese. At all. I tried to take Japanese lessons during the writing of the show, but there was no way I could learn it. Japanese is so hard. It really was a leap of faith. The scripts where written in English, which were then translated into both Korean and Japanese. The translators are the unsung heroes of this show. Now with Korean, because I understand Korean, I could hear the script back and understand whether or not it translated well. But Japanese, it is just like, “Let’s go with God.” So much credit goes to the actors, because they knew that I was flying blind, and they became checks and balances for the production as well. It was nutty.

What’s the plan for how long the series will run. Are you hoping for another season to wrap the show up? Are you going for three seasons or more?

When I pitched the show, I pitched it as four seasons. There’s no way you could tell the book’s story in one season, nor should you. It would be a disservice to what the book accomplished. When you think about all the characters that we have, we want to live with them and move on this journey of what a live is. So that was always the intention when we filmed the show. Our fingers are crossed for Season 2.

This interview has been edited and condensed.