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‘Oppenheimer’ Will Officially Show in Japanese Movie Theaters in 2024, After Months of Controversy

Japanese moviegoers will finally be able to experience ‘Oppenheimer’ in theaters in 2024, months after the rest of the world.

'Oppenheimer' is a worldwide blockbuster film by Christopher Nolan.
'Oppenheimer' is a worldwide blockbuster film by Christopher Nolan. Image: Shutterstock/Rokas Tenys

It is no surprise that a film regarding the creation of the atomic bomb would endure pushback in Japan, the only country to have suffered a nuclear attack. However, a recent announcement proclaims that Japanese moviegoers will finally be able to experience ‘Oppenheimer’ in theaters in 2024, months after the rest of the world.

The movie ‘Oppenheimer’ is a contemplative thriller that follows theoretical physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer as he and his team develop and design the first atomic bomb. The film has been a huge box-office success, earning over $950 million globally. It has also been determined as the highest-grossing film centered around World War II and has been nominated for 8 Golden Globe Awards.

Despite its massive success worldwide, including in Asian countries like China and South Korea, ‘Oppenheimer’ fared differently in Japan. No release date was given, so people speculated that the movie would not be showed in Japanese theaters at all.

‘Oppenheimer’s’ critics

Critics of the movie say it largely ignored and cut out the devastating impacts of the atomic bomb on Japan. ‘Oppenheimer’ minimizes depicting how the bombs wiped out two major cities and accounted for the deaths of over 200,000 people. Anti-nuclear groups took note of this as well and drew attention to the New Mexico residents who had to deal with living near the atom bomb testing site, suffering from the long-term effects of all the radiation.

Till this day, Japan marks the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki with ceremonies and calls for abstaining from using nuclear weapons. Whether or not the bombings of Japanese cities by the United States 80 years ago were justified remains a source of debate; however, Japan continues to grow more and more opposed to the use of nuclear weapons due to the incident.

It’s not the first time Japan has released a film way after America has, but it seems to happen frequently when the film relates to Japanese history. For example, Japanese protestors opposed the release of the film ‘Unbroken,’ which told the story of an American war prisoner who was tortured by his Japanese captors. Labeled as “anti-Japanese,” the film was released in Japan an entire year after its release in the U.S.

Nolan’s response & the theme he sought to convey

Christopher Nolan, producer and director of ‘Oppenheimer,’ responded to critics in an interview with Variety. He said that omitting the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in the film was intentional because he wanted to stay true to the story of Oppenheimer. “The film presents Oppenheimer’s experience subjectively,” Nolan said. He explained that “Oppenheimer heard about the bombing at the same time that the rest of the world did,” and he “wanted to show somebody who is starting to gain a clearer picture of the unintended consequences of his actions.” 

Though it may be surprising that Gen Z would be drawn to a film full of drama sequences centered around physics and politics, the historical backdrop and moving cinematic experience are huge reasons for ‘Oppenheimer’s’ success. The component regarding how what we do now can impact the future is extremely relevant when we consider modern-day topics like artificial intelligence or gene editing. Technological advancements inevitably come with ethical considerations, bringing about questions about morality and humanity that Gen Z is destined to take on in the future.

The origin of ‘Barbenheimer’

The same weekend ‘Oppenheimer’ was released, Greta Gerwig’s ‘Barbie’ also came out, centered around the well-known Mattel doll. Both ‘Barbie’ and ‘Oppenheimer’ present existential questions, and both drew Gen Z. While ‘Barbie’ was more light-hearted and focused on themes of self-discovery, ‘Oppenheimer’ was darker and brought about mixed feelings of awe, horror, and reflection.

We’ve grown up around the Barbie doll and it represents a sense of childhood and security. ‘Oppenheimer’ is something Gen Z doesn’t have the same sort of connection to, but the film really puts the world into perspective. Both films seemingly complement each other, and fans turned the stark contrast between the two into memes, a phenomenon termed ‘Barbenheimer.’

United face design, combining the films 'Barbie' and 'Oppenheimer' into 'Barbenheimer,' highly criticized by Japan.
United face design, combining the films ‘Barbie’ and ‘Oppenheimer’ into ‘Barbenheimer.’ Image: Shutterstock/savrin

The juxtaposition that came with the two films being released on the same day greatly entertained fans everywhere, and the memes took over the Internet. Gen Z, in particular, was very involved with this because Gen Z loves eccentric humor!

How the ‘Barbenheimer’ memes were received by Japan

But the concept of ‘Barbenheimer’ was not taken well by Japan. Some social media users posted fan-produced images of starring actors from both films, with a nuclear blast in the backdrop. The ‘Barbie’ U.S. Twitter account reposted one of these images, saying, “It’s going to be a summer to remember.”

However, Warner Bros. Japan criticized the U.S. headquarters of the company for promoting the insensitivity expressed through the memes, conveying how they trivialized the horror Japan experienced by the nuclear attacks. The hashtag #NoBarbenheimer trended throughout the country, and it dulled the release of ‘Barbie’ in Japan, as fewer moviegoers were inclined to go watch it amidst the controversy.

The parent company, Warner Bros, eventually publicly apologized for the insensitivity.

Japan finally releasing ‘Oppenheimer’ in 2024

So what made Japan change its mind? The Japanese film distributor Bitter Ends said in a statement, “As the subject matter of this film has a very important and special meaning for us Japanese people, we decided to release it in Japan after various discussions and considerations.” Bitter Ends also noted that ‘Oppenheimer’ is a front-runner for many awards in 2024.

The film distributor emphasized the relevance the cinematic experience holds for Japanese people, so it is essential that viewers have the opportunity to go watch ‘Oppenheimer’ in theaters for themselves. Bitter Ends didn’t specify an exact date for when ‘Oppenheimer’ will be released in Japan, but it is set to arrive sometime in 2024.

Written By

Hi there! I'm Suhani Singh, a high school student from Redmond, WA. I'm most interested in writing about news and lifestyle. Outside of writing and journalism, I enjoy learning neurobiology and advocating against the commercial tobacco industry.

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