The Tokyo 2020 Olympic opening ceremony featured a suite of video game music - including tracks from Final Fantasy, Kingdom Hearts and Sonic the Hedgehog - but one publisher was notably missing from the lineup. Where was Nintendo? According to leaked documents, it seems that there were once plans for the publisher to be more involved with the opening ceremony, with Nintendo songs included in the soundtrack and various Mario-themed shenanigans.
The news comes via Japanese media outlet Shukan Bunshun, which has obtained several documents for the opening ceremony ranging from April 2020 to July this year. According to these plans, the event would have featured performances inspired by the "8-bit world of video games" including Super Mario and Space Invaders, overseen by Nintendo legend Shigeru Miyamoto.
One composition plan dated 4th October 2020 featured a proposal that would have seen the return of the warp pipes from the Rio de Janeiro Olympics closing ceremony... with something of a twist. One graphic shows Lady Gaga entering a pipe, only to re-emerge as comedian Naomi Watanabe (sporting a blonde wig and red cap).
A music list dated 16th June 2021, meanwhile, included five Nintendo songs that never made it to the event. The main theme of The Legend of Zelda, the opening of Pokémon and tracks from Super Mario Bros. were apparently due to be played during the athletes' entrance march.
Shukan Bunshun also reports that Miyamoto at one point attended meetings about the opening ceremony, and that Nintendo was due to supervise the show. In the end, all the music was removed - and Nintendo had no presence in the final ceremony. Shukan Bunshun suggests that the chopping and changing of previously-arranged ceremony content might have influenced Nintendo.
As explained by the Japan Times [paywall], the original proposal sent to the IOC (and leaked to Shukan Bunshun) detailed plans for the opening ceremony to be a celebration of Japanese pop culture, featuring the Akira bike, riffs on "Neo Tokyo", and dancers fitted in uniforms to represent different train stations. The IOC reportedly liked the plans proposed by choreographer Mikiko Mizuno and her team, but thanks to Covid-19 and a series of PR disasters, things began to fall apart. Due to the year delay caused by the pandemic, a new creative director called Hiroshi Sasaki was brought on board in December 2020. Sasaki reportedly cut much of the content and sidelined Mizuno, who subsequently left the team along with several other members. In Spring 2021, Sasaki was the focus of a scandal for suggesting that Watanabe should be dressed as an "Olympig", following which he resigned from his position.
The problems didn't stop there: on 20th July musician Keigo Oyamada resigned as a composer for the ceremony after an interview surfaced in which he boasted about abusing classmates with disabilities. Then last week, a day before the ceremony, show director Kentaro Kobayashi resigned after a skit resurfaced online in which he made a Holocaust joke. And all this after the head of the organising committee for the Tokyo games, Yoshiro Mori, resigned in February for making sexist comments.
The Games themselves have not exactly been popular in Japan, too. Many Japanese people feel that holding the Games mid-pandemic is dangerous for public health, and too expensive to host - all for an event spectators cannot attend. An Asahi Shimbun poll found that 55 percent of respondents did not want the Games to go ahead, and protestors gathered outside the stadium during the opening ceremony to call for their cancellation.
With this combination of scandals and controversy over whether the Games should even be taking place, perhaps it's no surprise that Nintendo sat this one out.