Barbenhiemer sparks trouble for Barbie in Japan. Here’s why

Why is No Barbenheimer trending in Japan?

Barbenheimer has sparked backlash in Japan, with both Barbie and Oppenheimer coming in for criticism.

The two blockbusters have experienced record box-office runs since they both opened on 21 July.

Their success is partly fuelled by meme trend, Barbenheimer, which pokes fun at the seemingly opposite aesthetics of the two major productions.

Greta Gerwig’s Barbie, starring Margot Robbie and Ryan Gosling, is a sparkling-pink affair bringing the beloved Mattel doll to life. Meanwhile, Christopher Nolan’s Oppenheimer follows the life of theoretical physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer (played by Cillian Murphy), known in US history textbooks as the “father of the atomic bomb”.

Nolan’s film has already proved controversial due to its subject matter, but the Barbenheimer craze has now seen backlash in Japan.

Why is Oppenheimer controversial in Japan?

Oppenheimer’s creation led to the dropping of two atomic bombs in the Japanese cities Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945, marking the end of the Second World War and the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Japanese civilians.

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Nolan’s film has already met backlash globally for centring Oppenheimer’s story over the human cost of the bombs – the consequences of which are felt to this day.

One review in The Guardian wrote: “[Oppenheimer fills] the drama at such length with the torment of genius-functionary Oppenheimer at the expense of showing the Japanese experience and the people of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.”

Public figures have also denounced the film for underplaying its horror.

“The effect of the [Hiroshima and Nagasaki] blasts was to remove the skin in a much more gory and horrible way – in the film it was tastefully, artfully presented,” Carol Turner, a co-chair of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament’s London said in an interview.

“There’s nothing wrong with that, but if you look at photographs of actual survivors and read accounts of what happened to them it was a very horrifying, gory death.”

On the eve of the bombing anniversaries (6 and 9 August), Oppenheimer is still yet to confirm a release date in Japan.

What is #Barbenheimer and why has it been criticised?

In the lead up to Barbie and Oppenheimer, a fan-made trend mashed up the diametrically opposed films. Thus #Barbenheimer was born, with even political figures such as UK prime minister Rishi Sunak using the viral hashtag.

Many attribute the trend as a big factor in both films’ box office success.

The social media campaign was not created by either Warner Bros or Universal, but the official Barbie movie Twitter account has joined in with it.

Under a post showing a photoshopped photo of Barbie gleefully sitting on Oppenheimer’s shoulder with a nuclear explosion in the background, the account commented: “It’s going to be a summer to remember.”

Under a second, with a mushroom cloud edited onto Barbie’s head, it wrote: “This Ken is a stylist.”

This led to a counter-movement #NoBarbenheimer trending in Japan.

“More than 210,000 civilians died in excruciating pain from the atomic bombing, and those who survived suffered from the aftereffects. It is wrong to treat the atomic bombing, in which so many people suffered and died, as a joke,” one Twitter user wrote.

“Never support Barbenheimer. It sucks. I’m against making the mushroom cloud into such a kind of pop meme and enjoying it. My grandparents lived in Hiroshima when the bomb was dropped. I had hoped that the official account, at least, would deny this horrible meme,” another added.

How has Warner Bros. Japan responded?

In a statement on Monday (31 July), the Japanese Barbie movie account posted a Warner Bros. Japan statement criticising the “extremely regrettable” participation from the US Barbie account.

“We consider it extremely regrettable that the official account of the American headquarters for the movie Barbie reacted to the social media postings of ‘Barbenheimer’ fans,” the statement reads in translation.

“We take this situation very seriously. We are asking the US headquarters to take appropriate action. We apologise to those who were offended by this series of inconsiderate reactions. Warner Bros Japan.”

Warner Bros issued an apology later the same day, writing: “Warner Brothers regrets its recent insensitive social media engagement. The studio offers a sincere apology.” All tweets referring to Barbenheimer have also been deleted from the US Barbie movie account.