Goujin Isihara/Famitsu

I wasn't expecting this. When I first started researching the history of Mario's portrayal as an actor, I wanted to focus on little details in Nintendo games and other official media. I was able to catalog relevant tidbits, from the blooper reel in Mario Power Tennis to the filmic clapperboard Super Mario Maker. But then Richmond_Lee replied to one of my tweets, pointing out that Mario's thespian roots were deeper and stranger than I first thought.

The blog post linked in the reply was focused on a series of illustrations by pulp artist Goujin Isihara, which depicted the meteoric rise of a "movie star" Mario, who appeared in full costume on sets with other actors. The original Japanese text was cropped out, leaving only a vague synopsis that a guy named Patrick wrote in 2006. I wanted context. I needed to know what the hell I was looking at. I had to find the original article. 

Following some reverse image searches and Googling with wobbly translation, I nailed down a title and a source for my great white whale (and, presumably, the sweaty man inside the whale suit)."The Youthful Super Mario Brothers" was a short story published in a November 1990 issue of Famicom Tsushin magazine, otherwise known as Famitsu. The Japanese text was still an issue, so we hired a translator to help us break down each of the four pages. Let's go through them one by one. 

Goujin Isihara/Famitsu

Here's what our translator came up with:

What kind of life has our hero Mario lead? To answer, let's imagine the first half of human Mario's life for ourselves. Let'sa go? Let'sa go!

Also, this suddenly has absolutely nothing to do with any real life games! Mario Michaelangelo Antonio was born and raised in a small northern Italian town. His parents worked at an Olivetti and Fiat factory respectively, but an emotional young Mario longed for the city, and longed for the world of show business.

Finally Mario got out of school and moved to Rome. To pursue his dream of acting in films he joined an acting academy. At the academy his grades soared, but no girl would talk to country boy Mario, and his classmates made fun of him everyday.

"Yo Mario, keep makin' that dour face and you'll never get a gal. You gotta cheer up buddy, ba ha ha ha."

"Oh that Mario, he's so gloomy all the time. He needs to get out more. He is a nice guy though."

But Mario did not give in to the temptation of the city and graduated from the drama academy without incident. However, just because he graduated didn't mean he immediately became an actor. He auditioned for movies and television several times but was repeatedly rejected.

Already there is a lot happening here. It turns out that Mario doesn't only have a first name, he has three: Mario Michaelangelo Antonio. The story follows MMA as he successfully graduates acting school in Italy. Isihara worked overtime to cram in as many country-specific references as possible for the illustration, complete with the Leaning Tower of Pisa, an Italian Flag and a turtle eating a plate of spaghetti. You know, Italian stuff.

So far the only thing tying this to the world of the video games is the fact that this kid is named Mario and he has the hubris to wear a hat with his own first initial. I'd like to say it makes more sense from here on out, but my mother didn't raise a liar.

Goujin Isihara/Famitsu

Again, translated:

Years of bad luck passed for Mario. In that time he washed dishes, was a janitor, did road construction, cleaned cadavers, and did all sorts of other part time jobs while he waited for his chance. And as usual, he just couldn't get a girl. Then Mario heard that a Japanese game company called Nintendo was looking for actors in Italy to star in their new game.

"This is my chance!"

His chance in the world of games. It was completely different from show business but Mario was intensely drawn to this new world. He immediately applied for an audition. Thousands of applicants from all across Italy gathered at the Florence audition hall. At that audition hall he met the man who would become his partner and lifetime friend, Luigi.

Your eye is of course immediately going to Mario ripping his shirt off on stage next to Luigi, but bear with me here -- Mario's Bowie-tier bulge isn't even the most bonkers thing on this page.

Here's where the plot goes from a little strange to downright baffling. Mario, the human being, was trying out for movies and television without any luck. Only when Nintendo put out a casting call for a game did Mario get his shot. But this isn't a voiceover gig we're talking about. Remember, this story was published in 1990, so motion capture isn't yet in heavy use for games, either. The text implies that video games are made by live actors donning ridiculous outfits to portray all the characters, and then somehow that is put on the screen during gameplay. 

And it's not just Mario and Luigi that are played by actors. According to this story and its illustrations, actors fill the roles of enemies, bosses and even the clouds in the sky.

Goujin Isihara/Famitsu


Among the thousands of applicants Mario magnificently distinguished himself. In this new world of video games Mario became even more motivated than before. His first gig, "Donkey Kong", was a difficult action game that called for clearing many stages in order to rescue a damsel kidnapped by Kong, but Mario was to act as though he was in danger without doing a single stunt.

The production was nearly flawless and made record sales. And the damsel actress with whom Mario had his first performance with was also the talk of the town. For the next production, the villain from the first game "Donkey Kong" applied, but his character was quite unpopular.

It was the baby face (good guy) Mario that was determined to be drawing the crowds. So then in his first performance with Luigi in "Mario Brothers", Mario finally became a featured character. But he still wasn't yet incredibly famous, and did minor roles in "punch out" "Tennis", "Pinball" and many others. But after working in "Wrecking Crew", he once again teamed up with Luigi for "Super Mario Brothers", and his popularity finally exploded.

Since finding this article, I have tried in vain to wrap my head around the core concept. My suspension of disbelief is shot. I simply cannot accept the terms of this fiction. Mario, the actor, is said to be performing live "stunts" which represent the actions of the player character inside the Donkey Kong arcade game. How these actions are necessary for game development is a mystery. Also a mystery: How someone can have a moose knuckle that severe without passing out.

Maybe stranger is the idea that Mario simply showed up on set and they decided to name an entire series after the actor. It'd be filming Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom and then deciding to call it Chris Pratt Becomes Less Charming With Each Smarmy Quip. 

This success story has to hit its peak, so we have a little bit more to go.

Goujin Isihara/Famitsu


"Super Mario Brothers" was an unprecedented recored breaking hit, and the lead actress Princess Peach also made quite a splash. Everyone who was anyone got a copy. Then with the consecutive hits "Mario Brothers 2 & 3", Mario's popularity exploded in Japan, America, and even in his home country of Italy. Of course the kids loved it; but with the series' theme of always going to save the princess who was getting kidnapped, its popularity among women also grew.

It was just like the American TV show "The Fugitive", starring David Janssen, but Mario was an action hero that even a child could enjoy. With his mass appeal across the globe, it was safe to say that Mario's popularity was set in stone.

And even after that, with "Super Mario Brothers 3" and "Super Mario Land" and other hits, Mario became the very face of Nintendo. His performance fee was said to be astronomically high. And now this winter he's set to star in the latest big production, "Super Mario Brothers 4". There are even rumors that Mario will receive the Italian Citizen Prestige Award for being an Italian Hero.

But even now he values his friendship with his dear friend Luigi. Mario hasn't changed a bit. He's a true super hero beloved by children everywhere.

It's amazing how prescient this article was. Nobody could have known that, even today, we would be comparing Super Mario Bros. to the classic American TV show "The Fugitive" starring David Janssen. 

It's too bad that this article ends with the upcoming release of Super Mario Bros. 4 (a title affixed to Super Mario World in Japan), since we could really use an actor-ized history of Mario through the 90s and early 2000s. Instead, we are left to imagine what Actor Mario's behind-the-scenes life would be like as he experiments with red-tinted virtual reality and a squirt gun everyone hates.