Goodbye, Rio. Hello, Super Mario!

Mr Abe emerging from a drainpipe dressed as Super Mario during the closing ceremony at the Maracana Stadium. He said: “I wanted to show Japan’s soft power to the world with the help of Japanese characters.”
Mr Abe emerging from a drainpipe dressed as Super Mario during the closing ceremony at the Maracana Stadium. He said: “I wanted to show Japan’s soft power to the world with the help of Japanese characters.” ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

TOKYO • Everyone knew that Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was headed to Rio de Janeiro to represent the country that will host the 2020 Summer Olympics.

But viewers in Japan who tuned into the broadcast of Rio’s closing ceremony yesterday morning were surprised to see their normally sober leader pop out of an oversized green drainpipe dressed as Super Mario, the character from the popular Nintendo video game. In a comical cameo, he appeared from underground at Rio’s Maracana Stadium after “drilling down” from Tokyo.

The Japanese watching the spectacle reacted with a mix of surprise, delight and cynicism.

“I was impressed to see a national leader sacrificing his reputation and showing up in cosplay at this world event,” posted a Twitter user. “He is great.”

Some were sharply critical. 

“He popped up from a pipe grossly contaminated by radiation,” said one tweet, clearly referring to the Fukushima nuclear power plant that was crippled by a massive 2011 tsunami. 

Ms Tamayo Marukawa, the Japanese minister in charge of the 2020 Tokyo Games, said she was not informed of Mr Abe’s plan to portray Super Mario.

“I didn’t know about this,” she said. “I never imagined he would play Mario.”

She then suggested Mr Abe should start calling himself “Shinzo Mario Abe” to raise his global profile.

Mr Abe himself seemed satisfied. “I wanted to show Japan’s soft power to the world with the help of Japanese characters,” he said. “I wasn’t sure how the audience would react.”

NEW YORK TIMES, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 23, 2016, with the headline 'Goodbye, Rio. Hello, Super Mario!'. Print Edition | Subscribe