The box office blockbuster “Oppenheimer” will be released in Japan in 2024, a local distributor announced on Thursday, quashing speculation over the film’s rollout there following criticism of its promotion online.
Bitters End, a Japanese film distributor, did not give an exact date for the Universal Pictures film’s opening in Japan, but said it would happen next year.
The simultaneous release this summer of “Oppenheimer,” the brooding biopic about the creation of the atomic bomb, and “Barbie,” a fantastic-plastic tale of a doll’s awakening, was a discordant mash-up that delighted film fans. The “Barbenheimer” moment generated fan-made merchandise, memes and plentiful cross-promotion of the two features.
But many in Japan took offense, with critics saying that the Barbenheimer meme trivialized the horrors of the U.S. military’s nuclear attacks, which killed hundreds of thousands of mostly civilians in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The hashtag #NoBarbenheimer spread widely on social media, and some vowed to boycott watching “Barbie,” which was released in Japan in August.
The backlash even spurred conflict among the films’ distributors after the official “Barbie” movie account on social media responded playfully to fan-made Barbenheimer creations — including a photoshopped image of a Barbie with an atomic bomb bouffant.
In an unusual rebuke, a Japanese subsidiary of Warner Bros called the headquarters’ endorsement of the meme “highly regrettable.” Warner Bros. later apologized for “insensitive social media” engagement and deleted its responses to the memes.
The decision to release “Oppenheimer” in Japan came after “various discussions and considerations,” Bitters End said in a statement on Thursday, according to local media. The distributor said that it was aware that the film’s “subject matter has a very important and special meaning for us Japanese people,” and said it believed that the film should be seen in cinemas. Bitters End did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Foreign films are often released in Japan far later than their initial distribution, sometimes by years, but when its promoters there did not initially set a release date, the marketing backlash caused speculation over “Oppenheimer” not being released at all. It has grossed nearly $1 billion in box office sales worldwide.
“Barbie,” the top-grossing Warner. Bros. film of all time at nearly $1.5 billion, debuted in Japan just weeks after its initial release. But its reception in Japanese theaters was modest, and some local commentators speculated that the Barbenheimer controversy had cast a shadow on the film.