Oppenheimer Released in Japan with Mysterious Delay

The blockbuster was launched on July 21, 2023 in the USA, followed by Europe the next month

A few months after its release in the rest of the world, Oppenheimer was first screened in Japan during the last week of March.

Christopher Nolan’s film starring Cillian Murphy as the American theoretical physicist, head of the top-secret program known as the Manhattan Project, was released in the USA in July 2023 and in Europe in August. In Japan, screenings have been postponed. Perhaps because August 6 and 9 are the anniversaries of the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which occurred in 1945 precisely because of the hydrogen bomb that ended World War II.

Meanwhile, the movie won seven Academy Awards, including Best Picture, grossing more than $950 million worldwide. The delay of the screening in Japan has also generated speculation because no official explanation was ever given. In addition, Universal, which handled worldwide distribution, gave the launch of the Japanese film to Bitters End, a company that usually handles independent films shot in secret and with no special promotional efforts.

Last August, there was great outrage in Tokyo over “Barbenheimer,” a phenomenon born out of the juxtaposition of movies promoted by two major American companies, Warner and Universal, i.e., Barbie and Oppenheimer. Both films were released on the same day, July 21, and the comparison between the two totally different projects has been very popular on the internet and in social media. In Japan, memes and posters showing Margot Robbie (Barbie) and Cillian Murphy (Oppenheimer) dancing together were sharply criticized. There were those who doubted the phenomenon born from below, suggesting that both major companies were conducting a sophisticated but crude marketing operation.

Now the reaction in Japan, where many survivors of those tragic days are still alive, is mixed. Former Hiroshima mayor Takashi Hiraoka explained: “From Hiroshima’s standpoint, the horror of nuclear weapons was not sufficiently represented. The movie was made in such a way as to support the conclusion that the atomic bomb was used to save American lives.”

Takashi Yamazaki, director of Godzilla Minus One, which won an Oscar for visual effects, suggested instead that Oppenheimer be filmed, but from the perspective of Japan and the victims.

91-year-old Terumi Tanaka was 13 when a bomb fell on his home in Nagasaki, killing five members of his family. Speaking to the Mainichi Shimbun, he said he believes the movie will help people think about what nuclear weapons are and what it means to have them. “I want as many people as possible to come and see this,” he said, explaining that not enough people understand the role nuclear weapons still play in today’s politics and that they can lead to the destruction of humanity.

The question remains, why wait so long?