“Barbenheimer” Memes Get a Bad Rep Amongst Japanese Audiences

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With a plot centered around the creation of the atom bomb that was eventually used to end World War II, the fate of Christopher Nolan’s Oppenheimer and its release in Japan has been up in the air for quite some time. 

Despite being released around the world on July 21, Japan has still not received a solid release date but it has been confirmed that the film has not been outright banned in the country. Meanwhile, other Asian countries have shown the film, albeit with explicit scenes censored. 

One of the biggest things surrounding Oppenheimer is the coincidental release it has with Greta Gerwig’s Barbie, leading to numerous memes on the internet. Known as “Barbenheimer”, the memes highlight the juxtaposition in themes and tone between the two blockbuster films. 

This trend quickly became viral across social media, with most English-speaking sites featuring tons of Barbenheimer-themed videos and pictures right up to the release of both films. It turns out, Japan has recently caught wind of this meme and its netizens are not amused. 

The hashtag #NoBarbenheimer became a hot topic on the social media site formerly known as Twitter, X, in Japan. Many Japanese users have denounced the popular Barbenheimer trend, claiming that it is tone-deaf, especially on Barbie’s side of the memes. 

Through a number of tweets, many have expressed their disappointment in Mattel’s live-action adaptation embracing Oppenheimer’s imagery of mushroom clouds and the atomic bombs that levelled Hiroshima and Nagasaki. 

So much so that Warner Bros. Japan, the marketing team of the Barbie film has issued a formal apology for taking part in the Barbenheimer phenomenon. In their statement, Warner Bros. Japan has said that they reached out to their American counterparts to take appropriate action over this trend. 

Even Murata Shunichi of Japan’s Social Democratic Party took to X to protest against the Barbenheimer memes and even shined a spotlight on the real-life Dr. J. Robert Oppenheimer’s stance on the dropping of the bombs in World War II. 

It remains to be seen whether this will affect Barbie’s upcoming August 11 release in Japan or Oppenheimer’s eventual release. Either way, it is interesting to see how certain memes can be all fun and games in some parts of the world and can be detrimental in others. 

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