Oppenheimer to finally be screened in Japan after much consideration
It has been announced that Oppenheimer will be screened in Japan in 2024. Christopher Nolan’s film about the scientist J. Robert Oppenheimer, who played a leading role in the development of the atomic bomb, has been a somewhat sensitive topic in Japan both for its subject matter and the way it has been portrayed on social media. Japan is the only country in the world to have suffered atomic bomb attacks, on the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945.
Independent Japanese film distributer Bitters End will be releasing the biopic. They put out an official statement to Japanese news sites on December 7, explaining their decision to do so after “much discussion and consideration.” In the statement, Bitters End explain that Oppenheimer deals with a subject matter that is of “great importance and significance to us Japanese,” adding that it is a unique film experience that deserves to be seen on the big screen (The River).
A major controversy around the film in Japan centers on official responses to social media trends abroad. In many countries, the Barbie and Oppenheimer films were shown in movie theaters at the same time. The juxtaposition of two movies that were so dramatically different in terms of content and tone led to the creation of the Barbenheimer trend. Users of X and other platforms took to making parody images and videos combining Barbie with nuclear destruction, trivializing the devastation caused by atomic bombs. The official US account for the Barbie movie seemed to jump on this trend, responding positively to memes combining the two films. It also didn’t help that the films’ July 21 release in the US and some other countries was so close to the dates of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings on August 6 and 9 respectively.
The meme responses soured the release of the Barbie film in Japan and sparked the “BoycottBarbie” and “NoBarbenheimer” hashtag responses, in which people from Japan and other countries explained the horrific and lasting damage of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, using powerful real-life photos and accounts to show why the topic shouldn’t be trivialized. This backlash led to the film’s official Japanese account apologizing for the actions of its US counterpart, as well as apologies from the US account.
Toho Towa usually distributes Universal titles in Japan, but this time Oppenheimer will be distributed by the independent Bitters End, likely receiving fewer screenings as a result. Bitters End has previously distributed the Universal film Unbroken (2014), set in a Japanese POW camp in World War II, which divided opinions among the Japanese public as to whether it should be shown or not. It remains to be seen how Oppenheimer will be received by Japanese theatergoers.