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'Oppenheimer' will screen in Japan in 2024, distributors say

Irish actor Cillian Murphy, who portrayed U.S. theoretical physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer, poses on the red carpet upon arrival for the U.K. premiere of <em>Oppenheimer</em> in central London on July 13, 2023.
Henry Nicholls
AFP via Getty Images
Irish actor Cillian Murphy, who portrayed U.S. theoretical physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer, poses on the red carpet upon arrival for the U.K. premiere of Oppenheimer in central London on July 13, 2023.

SEOUL, South Korea — More than four months after the movie Oppenheimer's release in the U.S., movie distributors have decided to air the film next year in Japan, the country where J. Robert Oppenheimer's creation, the atomic bomb, killed more than 200,000 people in 1945.

Tokyo-based distributor Bitters End did not give a specific time in 2024 for the Japan opening, nor did it elaborate on its decisions to delay or proceed with the film's release.

The company noted in a statement that the film is a "front-runner for various film awards."

The film has grossed more than $950 million worldwide, and film industry media describe it as a contender for multiple Academy Award nominations.

While it's not uncommon for Hollywood films to be released in Japan well after their U.S. premieres, sensitivities surrounding the film are likely to have been a factor.

The film has been criticized for not portraying the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Director Christopher Nolan has insisted that he was being faithful to the historical facts, as J. Robert Oppenheimer learned about the bombings on the radio, and not through the U.S. government.

The film's marketing campaign, that paired Oppenheimer with this summer's other blockbuster, Barbie, also outraged many Japanese, who saw it as insensitive, and spread the social media hashtag "#NoBarbenheimer." Warner Bros. issued a public apology for the campaign.

A 2015 Pew Research Center survey found that only 14% of Japanese surveyed said the nuclear bombing of their country was justified, compared to 56% of Americans. In Japan, the anniversaries of the bombings are marked with solemn commemorations every year.

Also in 2015, right-wing nationalists tried to delay the release of Unbroken, an Angelina Jolie film about a WWII American POW tortured by his Japanese captors.

The film aired in Japan the following year, but the controversy set a precedent of which Oppenheimer's Japanese distributors are likely aware.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Anthony Kuhn is NPR's correspondent based in Seoul, South Korea, reporting on the Korean Peninsula, Japan, and the great diversity of Asia's countries and cultures. Before moving to Seoul in 2018, he traveled to the region to cover major stories including the North Korean nuclear crisis and the Fukushima earthquake and nuclear disaster.