‘Barbenheimer’ Trend Ignites Controversy Over Nuclear Bomb Memes, Inciting Backlash in Japan

Warner Brothers offers an apology following the backlash, as Barbie’s Japanese Twitter account deems the activity of the central Barbie account “extremely regrettable.”

International Sensation Triggers Concern in Japan

The global buzz around “Barbenheimer” has led audiences worldwide to delight in an unusual cross between two significantly distinct films this summer. In Japan, however, this seemingly innocent mashup of two popular blockbusters has elicited public outrage. Critics see it as making light of the tragic Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bombings by the U.S. in 1945, events that led to the loss of hundreds of thousands of lives.

The internet culture’s knack for merging Barbie’s pink universe with images of nuclear mushroom clouds gained the official Twitter account for the Barbie movie’s approval, initially reacting positively to the memes.

Deleted Tweets Stoke the Fire

“Barbie will make this a summer to remember,” read a now-deleted tweet from the official account, featuring a mashup poster with Margot Robbie (Barbie) perched on Cillian Murphy’s shoulder, portraying Robert Oppenheimer, the creator of the atomic bomb.

Another tweet, which remained live as of Tuesday morning, responded to a poster featuring Robbie and Ryan Gosling (Ken) escaping a nuclear explosion in Barbie’s signature pink car, stating, “We’re always thinking PINK.”

Controversy Surges as Studio Joins In

The memes about the concurrently released films gained traction over weeks. However, the controversy erupted when the official studio account started to participate, infuriating Japanese fans. The hashtags #StopBarbieRelease and #NoBarbenheimer trended as supporters rallied for a boycott.

On Monday, Barbie’s Japanese account publicly rebuked the actions of the main Barbie account, managed by Warner Bros. headquarters, labelling them as “extremely regrettable.” This rare show of internal corporate disagreement urged its American counterparts to act swiftly.

Warner Brothers Responds

Warner Brothers expressed regret over its recent controversial social media engagement in a statement to NBC News. “The studio offers a sincere apology,” it said. Yet, it seems unlikely that this will placate Japanese fans.

Maki Kimura, a Kanagawa resident, stated in an interview that it is now “impossible” for her to watch “Barbie.” Expressing her disappointment, she added, “Even if our favorite people or things want us to change our opinions, we cannot remain silent about the atomic bomb.”

Timing Adds to the Frustration

The announcement that Barbie will release in Japan on Aug. 11, just two days after the anniversary of the Nagasaki bombing, has further disheartened fans. “Really bad timing,” observed Chiho Komoriya, a customer support agent from Sendai, expressing regret for the film crew.

As of now, Universal Pictures has not set a release date for “Oppenheimer” in Japan. Universal did not immediately respond to a request for comment from NBC News. Responding to The New York Times, Universal expressed unawareness of the Barbenheimer controversy.

Perspective on Nuclear Imagery

Jeffrey Hall, a Japanese studies lecturer at Kanda University of International Studies in Chiba, Japan, explained, “It’s a problem of making jokes about nuclear explosions and making jokes about the bombing of Hiroshima, Nagasaki, which killed so many people.”

Japan’s tradition of broadcasting documentaries and movies focusing on the victims of the bombings in the lead-up to the commemoration indicates how seriously the country treats this matter. Hall further elaborated, “So the image of a mushroom cloud is something that Japanese people don’t associate with happy, friendly jokes, but something that is very seriously linked to death and suffering.”

Interestingly, the U.S. Ambassador to Japan Rahm Emmanuel posted a positive comment about Barbie on Wednesday amidst the ongoing controversy.

Previous Controversies

This isn’t the first time these two movies have caused an uproar in the region. Critics and social media users have pointed out the absence of Japanese victims in “Oppenheimer.” Director Christopher Nolan defended this, arguing that deviating from Oppenheimer’s experience would undermine the storytelling.

Furthermore, Barbie has been banned in Vietnam due to a scene featuring a contested map of the South China Sea. Warner Bros., however, defended the scene, describing it as a “child-like crayon drawing” and not a political statement.

Kaori Kikuchi, a high school teacher and long-time Barbie fan, expressed her disillusionment with the “Barbenheimer” controversy, which she felt overshadowed her excitement for the film. Despite the movie’s potential, she admitted, “I’m sure I’ll remember the meme with the atomic bomb, therefore I can’t watch ‘Barbie.’”

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