By Brooke Mallory
2:35 PM – Wednesday, August 2, 2023
The summer popularity of “Barbenheimer,” which refers to the new Barbie and Oppenheimer films that were released on the same day in the U.S., has prompted millions of people around the world to see two very different movies and revel in a unique moment of cultural convergence.
However, the lighthearted merging of the two blockbusters has also sparked major backlash from many Japanese citizens who see the box office blending as trivializing the deaths of hundreds of thousands in the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, where the United States unleashed atomic bombs in 1945.
The official Twitter account for the 2023 Barbie movie, which first responded enthusiastically to the mashup memes, initially welcomed the ongoing internet humor and photoshopped images of Barbie’s pink utopia with nuclear mushroom clouds, a reference to both films.
“It’s going to be a summer to remember,” a now-deleted tweet from the account said in response to a mashup poster that showed actress Margot Robbie on the shoulder of actor Cillian Murphy.
Margo Robbie, 33, plays the Barbie character, and Cillian Murphy, 47, plays physicist Robert Oppenheimer, the “father of the atomic bomb.”
“We’re always thinking PINK,” the studio posted in another tweet, replying to a poster showing Robbie and Ryan Gosling, who plays Ken in the Barbie movie, driving the iconic pink car away from a nuclear explosion.
Online memes referencing the two films, which were released on the same day in most countries, had been circulating for weeks. However, when the official studio account decided to join in, it reportedly infuriated Japanese fans.
Many Japanese online users posted the hashtags #StopBarbieRelease and #NoBarbenheimer, which began trending as people demanded a boycott.
In a rare public display of internal corporate division, Barbie’s Japanese account said on Monday that the posts by the main American Barbie account, which is managed by Warner Bros. headquarters, were “extremely regrettable,” urging its American colleagues to take action.
“Neither this movement nor these activities are officially sanctioned,” the account added, referring to the “Barbenheimer” trend.
The studio then apologized for what Japanese fans claimed was both disrespectful and distasteful.
“Warner Brothers regrets its recent insensitive social media engagement. The studio offers a sincere apology,” Warner Bros. Film Group told NBC News in a statement.
Maki Kimura, 43, of Kanagawa, stated in an interview that despite her initial excitement, she now finds it “impossible” to watch the “Barbie” movie.
“I loved Barbie so much… But we cannot remain silent about the atomic bomb. Even if our favorite people or things want us to change our opinions,” Kimura said.
It was also reported that the Barbie film will be released in Japan on August 11th, which is two days after the anniversary of the Nagasaki explosion, making the situation even more uncomfortable for some Japanese citizens.
“It’s a problem of making jokes about nuclear explosions and making jokes about the bombing of Hiroshima [and] Nagasaki, which killed so many people,” said Jeffrey Hall, a Japanese studies lecturer at Kanda University of International Studies in Chiba, Japan.
In the weeks leading up to the bombings’ commemoration, documentary series and movies are regularly broadcast on Japanese programs, focusing on the plight of those who suffered from the nuclear fallout, many of whom are still suffering from radiation effects that were passed down to the current generation.
“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,” Hall continued.
Despite the internet outrage, U.S. Ambassador to Japan Rahm Emmanuel praised the new Barbie movie on Wednesday.
Some Japanese social media users attempted to retaliate against internet users in the United States by creating and uploading their own 9/11 memes referencing the Barbie film and the tragic 2001 incident.
However, the retaliation backfired since Americans did not seem to take the same offense as the Japanese did, and most found the 9/11 memes to be humorous as well.