Will Oppenheimer’s Japanese Release Be Controversial?



  • The Oppenheimer film follows J. Robert Oppenheimer’s life, struggles, and ambition as he leads the charge into the atomic age.
  • The film does not show the actual devastation caused by the dropping of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
  • The film’s release in Japan may reignite conversations about the importance of accurate historical portrayals and remind the Japanese people of the US’s tendency to forget.

Oppenheimer was one half of the smash Barbenheimer phenomenon in the US during the summer of 2023. It was one of Christopher Nolan’s most successful releases, creating even more buzz for actor Cillian Murphy. The film was a deep dive into the background of the chief architect of the United States atomic bomb initiative.

However, the film has its detractors. These are people who have a different view of events and find things in the movie to be, in some cases, whitewashed and polished. One of the stickiest issues is how it handles the concept of Japan and the actual dropping of the bombs. So, how will Japanese audiences react when the film is released next year?

Oppenheimer Follows the Titular Controversial Character


Release Date
July 21, 2023
Cillian Murphy , Matt Damon , Robert Downey Jr. , Emily Blunt , Florence Pugh , Gary Oldman , Josh Hartnett , Jack Quaid , Kenneth Branagh , Rami Malek , Alex Wolff , Matthew Modine

The entire push of the Oppenheimer film is that it follows J. Robert Oppenheimer from university until far later in life. During this time, he struggles with his personality, relationships, and belief system. For much of the film, his ambition drives him as he is repeatedly told that he is the only person who can crack the code to create the much-needed and seemingly inevitable atomic bomb.

Oppenheimer: How Christopher Nolan Did the Impossible With His Atomic Blockbuster

The fact that Oppenheimer is a success is nothing short of incredible.

For most of the film, the idea is that Oppenheimer and many of the scientists have a direct link to their work, as they are attempting to stop the Nazis from building a bomb of their own. However, as the film continues and the Nazis no longer seem to be a significant threat, the US decides that they will be using the bomb on Japan.

Oppenheimer does not seem to take this lightly and campaigns for a nuclear armistice. The film follows his story as he is dragged through the mud for being a communist and communist sympathizer in the post-war world, where Russia is now considered to be a new threat.

The film is about the rise and fall of a larger-than-life individual who singlehandedly led the charge into the atomic age. We feel bad for him, anger towards him, and ultimately see the dichotomy of a person who feels the immeasurable guilt of his life’s work.

Christopher Nolan Left Some Parts Out of Oppenheimer

One thing we never see in the film is the actual dropping of the bombs on Hiroshima or Nagasaki or their aftermath. We do not see the destruction and horror that these two devices wrought upon the people of Japan or the various problems that came after. Even Oppenheimer himself is told his job is done once the bombs have been created, tested, and manufactured and that he will not be able to see them in use.

We have one scene where he is privy to the discussion over where the bombs will be dropped, with one man saying that he doesn’t want them launched on a specific city because he once honeymooned there. It is said with such offhandedness that it is met as a joke. This scene represents the flippant nature with which some people drew their lines at the time, and it does come off as crass, but that seems to be the point of the scene.

And yet, as we watch one man grapple with a decision, we are left without the sting and scope of his misdeeds. The initial deaths of over 200,000 civilians, the flattening of two cities, and the irreparable harm caused to an entire country are never shown. We simply see our main character imagining the screams, as that was the reality for Oppenheimer. It gives the feeling that Christopher Nolan could not fathom the idea of showing the true breadth of destruction caused by the actions of one man.

Japan Has Not Forgotten

US audiences embraced Oppenheimer at the wrong time. This is no fault of the filmmakers, but they did nothing to stop it. The idea that Oppenheimer was paired with the Barbie movie was initially silly. How could two disparate movies be coming out the same weekend? But people shared the Barbenheimer memes, bought the shirts, and giggled over fan-made trailers. It was fun!

And yet, many people saw the mashups as disregarding the serious subject matter that Oppenheimer represented. Not to mention the fact that the movie alone is controversial. Axios reported that “Oppenheimer has generated backlash in Japan, for what critics argue is its failure to fully grapple with the destructive reality of the attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and its celebration of the “father of the atomic bomb.” It is not hard to see why. For many Americans, the concept of World War II is shrouded in the past and concentrated in Germany. We hardly ever see movies that address the devastation caused by two 9,000 lb bombs.

Margot Robbie Was Encouraged to Change Barbie’s Release Date by an Oppenheimer Producer, ‘We’re Not Moving!’

Oppenheimer’s Chuck Roven had the audacity to try and talk Margot Robbie into changing Barbie’s release date. It didn’t happen.

It wouldn’t be surprising if most of what Japanese audiences have heard of the movie is through internet memes and descriptions. The film’s wide release will undoubtedly cause controversy and reignite the conversations about the importance of accurate historical portrayals of very real tragedies and atrocities. There are Americans who remember the Cold War, the specter of bombs, and the idea of mutually assured destruction, but many younger people just assume that these things are inevitable. It is not a matter of when in Japan because they’ve already had the terrible experience.

This generational trauma may make it hard for Christopher Nolan to show his face in the country, but it may also serve to remind the Japanese people that the US is quick to forget. Our insular nature tells us that there is the US, and then there is “foreign.” Japan sits firmly in that second category, and this painful truth will become even more apparent to them once the film hits theaters. The lack of the Japanese perspective in Oppenheimer certainly doesn’t help in this regard, though that’s never what the movie was meant to be. Hopefully, once the film is released in Japan, the dialogue it creates will be more helpful than destructive.

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