Japan finally screens ‘Oppenheimer’, with trigger warnings, unease in Hiroshima

April 1, 2024 - 12:34 PM
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Cillian Murphy in titular role Oppenheimer (Universal Pictures)

 Best picture winner “Oppenheimer” finally premiered in Japan on Friday, eight months after a controversial grassroots marketing push and concerns about how its nuclear theme would be received in the only country to suffer atomic bombing.

The biggest winner at this month’s Academy Awards, the film directed by Christopher Nolan about U.S. physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer, who led the race to develop the atomic bomb, has grossed nearly $1 billion globally.

But Japan had been left out of worldwide screenings until now, despite being a major market for Hollywood. Nuclear blasts devastated its western city of Hiroshima and Nagasaki to the south at the close of World War Two, killing more than 200,000.

“Of course this is an amazing film which deserves to win the Academy Awards,” said Hiroshima resident Kawai, 37, who gave only his family name.

“But the film also depicts the atomic bomb in a way that seems to praise it, and, as a person with roots in Hiroshima, I found it difficult to watch.”

A big fan of Nolan’s films, Kawai, a public servant, went to see “Oppenheimer” on opening day at a theatre that is just a kilometer from the city’s Atomic Bomb Dome.

“I’m not sure this is a movie that Japanese people should make a special effort to watch,” he added.

Images on social media showed signs posted at the entrances to some Tokyo theatres, warning that the movie featured images of nuclear tests that could evoke the damage caused by the bombs.

Another Hiroshima resident, Agemi Kanegae, had mixed feelings upon finally watching the movie.

“The film was very worth watching,” said the retired 65-year-old. “But I felt very uncomfortable with a few scenes, such as the trial of Oppenheimer in the United States at the end.”

The film quickly became a global hit after opening in the United States last July. But many Japanese were offended by fan-created “Barbenheimer” online memes that linked it to “Barbie”, a frothy blockbuster that opened around the same time.

Universal Pictures initially left Japan off its global release schedule for “Oppenheimer”. Eventually picked up by Bitters End, a Japanese distributor of independent films, it was given a release date for after the Oscar awards ceremony.

Speaking to Reuters before the movie opened, atomic bomb survivor Teruko Yahata said she was eager to see it, in hopes that it would re-invigorate the debate over nuclear weapons.

READ: Atom bomb survivor hopes Japan debut of ‘Oppenheimer’ will stoke nuclear debate | Hiroshima residents hope ‘Oppenheimer’ Oscars draw attention to A-bomb reality

Yahata, now 86, said she felt some empathy for the physicist behind the bomb. That sentiment was echoed by Rishu Kanemoto, a 19-year-old student, who saw the film on Friday.

“Hiroshima and Nagasaki, where the atomic bombs were dropped, are certainly the victims,” Kanemoto said.

“But I think even though the inventor is one of the perpetrators, he’s also the victim caught up in the war,” he added, referring to the ill-starred physicist.

— Reporting by Irene Wang in Hiroshima; Writing by Rocky Swift in Tokyo; Editing by Clarence Fernandez

READ: Universal Pictures dominates the Academy Awards with “Oppenheimer’