Nintendo sixty bore
There is a trusty, commonly-cited criterion for evaluating documentaries: Could this documentary be just as informative and effective as 5- to 10-page essay in a magazine, or is there something about its construction or content that lends itself specifically to film? If that’s the case, why should we even bother with it?
The Story of Nintendo doesn’t come close to passing this test, and it barely clears an even more basic hurdle. Could this documentary have simply been a Wikipedia article instead? (In fact, it is.)
As the title suggests, the film provides a summary-level history of the Nintendo company. With a runtime of only an hour and spanning over a century, it doesn’t leave much space for diving into depth or recounting anecdotes. We trace Nintendo’s journey from its origins as a playing card company to its multi-billion-dollar status with the release of the Nintendo Switch.
Part of the problem with the documentary is that anyone remotely familiar with the video game industry will already know the bulk of this saga. It’s not exactly a secret that the Game Boy sold a ton of units despite its simple, no-color screen, or that the Wii U was a commercial misstep. I suppose if you’ve completely shielded yourself from any background on video games over the past 40 years, then this documentary offers a decent layman’s overview. But the same could be accomplished with a 3-minute Google dive.
You’d think one advantage of the film medium would be to include lots of clips of the video games themselves. While The Story of Nintendo does feature a few, it’s not nearly enough. You’d find more in your average YouTube video essay. The film also includes some vintage TV ads, which are fun, but presumably sourced from places easily accessible to anyone looking for them.
The majority of the film consists of talking head segments featuring a few people whose names are not revealed until the closing credits, and whose credentials are never displayed. It’s clear from the context that they are bloggers, online journalists, or perhaps simply enthusiasts. They approach Nintendo from a fanboy perspective that borders on propaganda or advertising. The movie doesn’t entirely gloss over the company’s flops like the Virtual Boy, but it doesn’t give them more than brief mentions.
The most interesting information in the film comes from the opening few minutes when it discusses Nintendo’s early history. This is the information least familiar to the general public, and I found it deeply fascinating, especially Nintendo’s indirect ties to the yakuza. The film also sheds some light on the contrasting influences of Nintendo’s culture, depending on the CEOs leading the company – a topic I wish the movie had explored more. I would have loved hearing interviews from people who worked at Nintendo ready to dish some dirt and air grievances.
The Story of Nintendo seems to be a small, independent project, and I don’t take any pleasure in critiquing it so harshly. My hopes were raised a little too high when I saw the title, poster, and the synopsis. I wish the crew, including director Jake Hickman, the best, and encourage them to find a more focused and incisive angle for their next project.