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The Strange Story of the Super Mario Bros. Anime That Never Came to America


Jack Gardner

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Many people remember the Super Mario Bros. movie from 1993. The live-action film involved Mario Mario (Bob Hoskins) and Luigi Mario (John Leguizamo) battling against Bowser (Dennis Hopper) and his minions across dimensions. It's... weird to say the least and it performed so catastrophically that Nintendo has rarely allowed its characters to set foot in another film since. However, many people don't know that there is actually another Super Mario Bros. movie that released several years before, becoming the first video game movie in history (along with another film that happened to release the same day, but that's a story for another time).

 

Super Mario Bros.: Peach-hime Kyushutsu Dai Sakusen!, which roughly translates to Super Mario Bros.: The Great Mission to Rescue Princess Peach, released in Japanese theaters on July 20, 1986. The film was intended largely as an advertisement for the Famicom Disk System and the Japanese version of Super Mario Bros. 2 (known as Super Mario Bros.: The Lost Levels), which had both released earlier that year. After its theatrical release, the film pretty much disappeared. Nintendo didn't consider the film worth distributing on VHS or bringing it to regions outside of Japan. However, the Super Mario Bros. anime did make it to a limited VHS and Betamax release that was solely intended for video rental outlets. This extremely small-scale distribution made it one of the rarest video cassette tapes in the world.

 

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After tape-based media began to phase out in favor of DVDs, Nintendo did not re-release Super Mario Bros.: Peach-hime Kyushutsu Dai Sakusen! and the film fell into complete obscurity. The film was, for all intents and purposes, considered lost with only preserved magazine advertisements and a scattered assortment of merchandise testifying to its existence. Obsessed Mario Bros. fans scoured the world for years searching for one of the elusive tapes.

 

Then, several years ago, someone struck gold. Uploading the footage to YouTube, the source files for the movie began bouncing around the internet. Of course, the video ripped off of a VHS tape wasn't of the best quality, so a group of fans undertook a restoration effort, revamping the film into a crisp, clear experience and translating subtitles for English and Spanish audiences. These efforts concluded earlier this year in September when YouTuber Magiblot1 uploaded the most recently remastered version of the 60-minute film. 

 

 

These efforts weren't supported by Nintendo, of course, and several uploads of the unobtainable film have been taken down from YouTube. However, Magiblot1's restoration remains untouched by Nintendo's copyright arm - so far. Aside from watching these videos via streaming services like YouTube, the only other option is to track down an old VHS/Betamax tape. If you can manage to find a copy up for auction on an obscure corner of the internet (and that's a big if), expect to pay hundreds of dollars.

 

I'm not going to lie - this is a bizarre movie. For starters, Mario and Luigi live in our world, running a grocery store. Mario plays the Super Famicom to escape the drudgery of life, but one day Princess Peach leaps out of the screen of his television with Bowser in hot pursuit. The Koopa King manages to make off with Peach and life seems to return to normal. That is, until a dog from the Mushroom Kingdom manages to reopen the portal and seemingly recruit the brothers to rescue the princess. Though the film is ostensibly for kids, it does feature words that roughly translate into curses and a surprising amount of violence directed toward Luigi (who wears blue and yellow). One sequence in the film even involves Luigi tripping out on mushrooms.

 

All in all, this is a pretty fascinating piece of film and video game history that I feel glad to have seen. The strange eccentricity comes across as oddly endearing and I enjoyed it much more than the live-action film the followed it. Think of what might have been if this title had been localized for Western audiences and released prior to the 1993 debacle that largely tanked video game movies in the eyes of Hollywood and game publishers for almost two decades. The landscape of video game movies could be vastly different today if Nintendo had released its films a little differently.

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