If you were a kid during the 1990s, it’s going to be hard for you not to enjoy Death of Nintendo, a coming-of-age tale set in early 1990s Manila, the capital city of the Philippines.
As its title suggests, this movie is heavy on 90s nostalgia, with Reebok Pumps, idolization of the Chicago Bulls, and of course a lot of video games. On top of cultural references, Death of Nintendo also gets the feelings of adolescence right: love triangles that form before you even know what love is; a simultaneous yearning for and fear of growing up; and that uncomfortable realization that your parents are actual human beings.
The film follows preteen Paolo and his motley crew of friends as they shoot hoops, hang out at the local pool, play The Legend of Zelda, and plan schemes to sneak out of the house at night to hang out with girls. The humor and tone often veer from sweetly innocent to irritatingly crude—just like the sensibilities of preteen boys themselves. But the characters are written and acted with such depth that I liked them despite their flaws, and the visuals of sunny Manila are a welcome break from the Portland winter gloom.
The film is set in the months leading up to the 1991 eruption of Mount Pinatubo, one of the worst volcanic eruptions of the 20th Century. As the volcano gets close to erupting, earthquakes cause brown-outs throughout the film. While the adults in Death of Nintendo are put out by the power outages, the kids constantly find ways to adapt and keep having fun—because what is adolescence if not one long lesson in how to adapt? The literal turbulence of the landscape is played for jokes, the same way the social turbulence of early teenagedom never gets too heavy in the movie. It’d be an exaggeration to say Death of Nintendo views childhood through rose-colored glasses—though it certainly views it through a bright 90s primary color palette.
The film reaches its climax as Paolo’s friend groups travels to a barrio doctor to get circumsized—which, I promise, is a sweeter and less-gruesome plot device than it sounds like! It ends with a time-jump into the near future, and manages to have a #feminist ending despite being a movie largely focused on teen boys and their desires. A truly impressive feat!
If you love coming-of-age movies and 90s nostalgia as much as the average millennial does, then Death of Nintendo is definitely worth the watch—you might even want to put it on in the background while you play with your Nintendo Switch.
Here's how you can stream Death of Nintendo as part of the Portland International Film Festival.