Since 1975
  • facebook
  • twitter
  • Home
  • Features
  • Hollywood blockbuster ‘Barbie’ opens in Japan after atomic bomb controversy

Hollywood blockbuster ‘Barbie’ opens in Japan after atomic bomb controversy

"Barbie" hit theatres in Japan on Friday, following the "Barbenheimer" controversy. (@USAmbJapan on X)
Short Url:
11 Aug 2023 07:08:42 GMT9
11 Aug 2023 07:08:42 GMT9

TOKYO: Hollywood blockbuster “Barbie” hit theatres in Japan on Friday, where “Barbenheimer” memes linking the doll-themed film with the atomic bomb caused a stir and made distributor Warner Bros apologize ahead of the release.

Tickets for “Barbie”, starring Margot Robbie in the title role, nevertheless sold fast in Japan as fans flocked to the theatrical release, timed to coincide with a national holiday marking the first day of Japan’s extended summer holiday week.

“The pink world of Barbie was absolutely beautiful,” said Misaki Suzuki, 29-year-old nail salon worker, after watching the film at a Tokyo cinema.

“Barbie” has topped $1 billion in global box office since its July 21 debut, making writer and director Greta Gerwig the first female filmmaker to surpass that benchmark as a solo director. 

The success of the fantasy-comedy was further boosted by the coupling with “Oppenheimer”, the biopic chronicling the creation of the atomic bomb during World War Two that opened on the same weekend.

But the “Barbenheimer” combo sparked a backlash in Japan, as the nation earlier this month marked the memorials of the U.S. atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki 78 years ago.

Memes shared on social media combined images from both, with one showing a cheering Barbie on the shoulders of Oppenheimer, against the backdrop of an apocalyptic blast. These memes have sparked anger online in Japan, the only country to ever have been attacked in wartime with nuclear weapons.

A petition collected more than 16,000 signatures by Thursday, demanding that Warner Bros and Universal Pictures, the studio behind the “Oppenheimer” biopic, call a halt to the “Barbenheimer” hashtag that has helped make the film a global blockbuster.

A #NoBarbenheimer hashtag trended in Japan at the time, prompting Warner’s Japan division to issue a rare public criticism of its U.S. parent company, which then followed with an apology last week.

“Do they know how many people died when that mushroom cloud appeared?… Don’t have fun with the atomic bomb,” said one irate Japanese social media user, using the hashtag #NoBarbenheimer.

“We just want (the US) to know what kind of devastation the two atomic bombs caused before speaking, not just for Japan but also for the world,” wrote another user.

The official account of the “Barbie” movie on X, formerly known as Twitter, replied to one such image, saying: “It’s going to be a summer to remember” accompanied by a blowing kiss emoji.

The message, which is longer visible, prompted Warner Bros. Japan, the local distributor of “Barbie”, to apologize.

“We apologize to those who were offended by this series of inconsiderate reactions,” Warner Bros. Japan said in a statement.

The distributor also said the replies by the US official account were “extremely regrettable”, adding they are urging the headquarters to “take appropriate action”.

Mitsuki Takahata, who voices Barbie in the dubbed Japanese version, posted on Instagram on Wednesday that she was dismayed upon learning of the memes and considered dropping out of a promotional event in Tokyo hyping its opening on Aug. 11.

“This incident is really, really disappointing,” she posted.

The same day, the media-savvy U.S. Ambassador to Japan Rahm Emanuel posted a picture of his meeting in Tokyo with director Greta Gerwig, but the response online was chilly.

“Your post at this time will get on the nerves of many Japanese, and will further solidify their resolve to never go to see that movie,” replied a poster known as tsuredzure on the X platform formerly known as Twitter.

A spokesperson for the embassy said Emanuel took his wife, daughter and her friends to see “Barbie” and that he embraces the film’s message about women’s empowerment.

Still, Japanese fans of the movie, which sends Mattel Inc’s iconic doll into real life, said the controversy did not discourage them from visiting theatres.

“It was harsh”, said 24-year-old university student Rie Takeda, commenting on the fan-produced #Barbenheimer memes.

“But the movie was radiant, beyond that I had fun” watching it, she said.

No release date has been set for “Oppenheimer”.

AFP and Reuters 

Most Popular

return to top