Oscar-winning blockbuster ‘Oppenheimer’ finally opens in Japan

TOKYO  -   Japanese moviegoers finally got the chance to see “Oppenheimer” this weekend, eight months after the biopic’s worldwide release, following concerns over how it might be received in the only country to directly experience the horror of nuclear weapons. The Oscar-winning blockbuster by British-American director Christopher Nolan was one of 2023’s most successful films and its joint release on the same weekend as “Barbie” created a global movie spectacle dubbed “Barbenheimer.” But that framing left many Japanese people feeling uncomfortable as did the painful content of a movie that centers on the devastating technology unleashed by J. Robert Oppenheimer and his team of scientists. Some in Japan felt that the unofficial “Barbenheimer” marketing campaign trivialized the 1945 nuclear attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and studio Universal Pictures opted not to include the country in its global release rollout last July. The three-hour biopic has broken several records since its release last year, becoming the highest-grossing movie set during World War II, according to Universal. In Japan, it ranked fourth at the box office following its release Friday, according to industry tracker Kogyo Tsushinsha, raking in 379 million yen ($2.5 million) in its first three days. As part of its promotional campaign, Universal sought the views of atomic bomb survivor Tomonaga Masao, who is the president of a Nagasaki-based “hibakusha” group — the name survivors call themselves. In quotes published on the movie’s official Japanese website, Masao said could feel the titular character’s struggle in the latter part of the film, when Oppenheimer begins to push back against the nuclear arms race that emerges after the war. “This is… connected to the fundamental problem of the world today, where a nuclear-free world is becoming more and more distant,” he is quoted as saying. “Here we sense Nolan’s hidden message of pursuing the responsibility of politicians,” he added. Former Hiroshima Mayor Hiraoka Takashi is meanwhile quoted saying that he saw “a man full of contradictions,” whose scientific work was weaponized by the state and whose warning against downplaying the threat of nuclear war was later ignored by those same authorities. “The atmosphere of those days still fills our world today,” he said, adding: “I would like to watch it again and think about what a nation that believes in nuclear deterrence is.”

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