People in Japan have not appreciated the co-marketing of Greta Gerwig’s Barbie and Christopher Nolan’s Oppenheimer, dubbed Barbenheimer, as much as the rest of the world. For Japan, the only country in the world to have ever experienced atomic bombings, the development of nuclear weapons is no laughing matter. After witnessing repeated lighthearted interactions between the Warner Bros.-linked Barbie movie social media account and memes referencing atomic bomb explosions in a nod to the Barbenheimer trend, the producer’s Japanese arm called out the US counterpart for indulging in the pitting and posturing the two spectacles side-by-side.
In a statement (link in Japanese) posted on the official Japanese account for the Barbie movie on Twitter (now X) yesterday (July 31), Warner Bros. Japan said it was “highly regrettable” that the US-based account for the film engaged with the “Barbenheimer” trend in an “inappropriate” manner. The Japanese firm distanced itself from the meme and movement in the country where #NoBarbenheimer has been trending, and said that it was seeking “an appropriate response” from its US parent. This post has been viewed nearly 32 million times at the time of publishing.
“Warner Brothers regrets its recent insensitive social media engagement. The studio offers a sincere apology,” the company said in a statement emailed to Variety today (Aug. 1). But publicly, it remains mum. It has not posted the apology on its own accounts, but it has quietly removed the offending posts.
“If no expression of regret is posted from the official US @barbiethemovie account, it will feel like Warner Brothers doesn’t actually want the original intended American audience of its a-bomb meme tweets to know it regrets its endorsement of that kind of humor.”—Aug 1 tweet by Jeffrey J Hall, PhD. Special Lecturer at Kanda University of International Studies.
July 21: Barbie and Oppenheimer get a dual release in North America and several other international territories. Both become blockbuster box office hits on opening weekend, although Barbie leads by a mile
Also July 21: Replying to a meme showing Margot Robbie with a mushroom cloud hairstyle—a reference to a bomb blast—the official Barbie movie account in the US replied, “This Ken is a stylist.” In another controversial image, Cillian Murphy, who plays Robert J Oppenheimer, the physicist who is called “the father of the atomic bomb,” is shown carrying Barbie actor Margot Robbie through a burning city. Retweeting that, the Barbie movie account (link in Japanese) replied, “It’s going to be a summer to be remembered.”
July 31: Warner Bros. Japan posts a statement on its official Japanese-language Barbie movie account on X—formerly Twitter—criticizing the studio’s US branch for feeding into the “Barbenheimer” craze on social media.
Aug 1: US Warner Bros. apologizes in media statement emailed to publications like Variety and Deadline.
Aug. 6 and 9: The 78-year anniversaries of the atomic bombs being dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
August 11: The release date for Barbie in Japan.
Christopher Nolan’s R-rated historical drama Oppenheimer, based on the book American Prometheus, deals with the creation of the atomic bomb during World War II. The movie has not yet released in—and has no release date in—Japan, where a quarter of a million people were killed by the two atomic bombs US dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945.
While the film isn’t an out-and-out celebration of the invention, and it does open the debate around war crimes, it’s perhaps too sensitive a topic for Japan. Even if it does get a release date in the country, it’ll probably a respectable period after the annual peace memorial services on the bombing anniversaries, which are solemn affairs.