‘Oppenheimer’ to make Japanese theatrical debut in 2024

After raking in nearly $1 billion at the global box office, “Oppenheimer” will see its release in sensitive territory: Japan.

The film, which dramatizes the life of theoretical physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer, has been picked up by Japanese distribution company Bitters End for a 2024 release in the only country to have not just one but two nuclear bombs dropped on it.

Oppenheimer oversaw the creation of the atomic bomb during World War II as the director of the Manhattan Project, the basis of the film.

“We have decided to release this film in Japan after much discussion and consideration, as the subject matter it deals with holds significant and special meaning to us Japanese,” the distributor said in a Japanese-language statement. “After viewing the film, we believe that the unique cinematic experience crafted by director Christopher Nolan, which transcends traditional storytelling methods, is best enjoyed on the big screen.”

Jeffrey J. Hall, who researches pop culture in Japan, said the news of the film’s release was warmly received, becoming the country’s No. 1 trending topic on X, formerly Twitter, after it was announced.

“There was definitely a sense of exclusion among Japanese cinephiles,” Hall, a special lecturer at Kanda University of International Studies outside Tokyo, said in an email. “Even if the subject matter of the film might be a bit uncomfortable for Japanese viewers, the fact that it was created by a world-famous director will be reason enough for many viewers to give it a chance.”

The marketing of the film was not without controversy in Japan. When Warner Bros., the studio behind blockbuster film “Barbie,” shared the “Barbenheimer” meme on its social media accounts, backlash followed. The cinematic portmanteau sprang from the same-day release of the two very different but highly touted films. The hashtag #NoBarbenheimer trended in Japan amid criticism that the meme trivialized the devastation and long-lasting impact of the 1945 atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

“I don’t think there will be a repeat of the Barbenheimer controversy,” Hall said, “provided that Japanese distributors approach the subject matter in a tasteful manner.”

The film also was criticized for failing to directly depict the bombings in Japan, though not all critics agreed with the argument.

Hall speculates that Japan’s 2024 screening of the film, which currently has no specific release date, will be tied to Oscar season, as the film is heavily favored to garner awards. He added that the original timing of the film’s release in Japan, in late July this year, would not have been good. It was only a couple of weeks before the anniversaries of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings, which the nation solemnly observes.

“Oscar wins can fill seats at theaters,” Hall said, “even if the subject matter is uncomfortable.”

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