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‘Oppenheimer’ Opens In Japan Amid Reports Of Praise Mixed With Discomfort: Reactions

Eight months after it began global release, Christopher Nolan’s Oppenheimer opened in Japan today. The Best Picture Oscar winner about the race to develop the atomic bomb has been met with a mix of reactions, some praising the movie and some finding it uncomfortable to watch. There also have been reports of confusion over the devastating 1945 bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki not explicitly being depicted.

Nolan addressed that decision in July, telling NBC it was made because the film is told subjectively from the eponymous physicist’s point of view. “To depart from [his experience] would betray the terms of the storytelling,” the filmmaker said at the time. “He learned about the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki on the radio — the same as the rest of the world.”

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There had been a question mark over Oppenheimer playing in Japan given sensitivities to the subject matter. But in December, Universal’s local distribution partner, Bitters End, announced that the biographical epic would be in Japanese cinemas in 2024. At the time, Bitters End said it was a decision that was made “following months of thoughtful dialogue associated with the subject matter and acknowledging the particular sensitivity for us Japanese.” In January, Bitters End set the March 29 date, positioning the release after the Oscars, where it went on to win seven awards.

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According to local media reports, some cinemas in Japan today posted signs at their entrances, warning that the movie features scenes of nuclear tests and images that could evoke the damage caused by the bombs.

A young Hiroshima resident told the BBC after seeing the film that Oppenheimer (played by Oscar winner Cillian Murphy) “was portrayed as a great man, but he could not hide the regret and guilt in his heart. It was very interesting to see that.”

Another, identified as an anti-nuclear campaigner, said scenes of excitement and celebration of the creation and dropping of the bomb made her feel “disgusted,” while a student told the BBC, “In this film, they say, ‘The use of atomic bombs saves lives.’ When I heard that phrase, I felt as if I had learned a new perspective, from the American point of view and from the world’s point of view.”

Speaking to Reuters, a 37-year-old Hiroshima resident said: “Of course this is an amazing film which deserves to win the Academy Awards. But the film also depicts the atomic bomb in a way that seems to praise it, and, as a person with roots in Hiroshima, I found it difficult to watch.”

Another Hiroshima resident told the news agency, “The film was very worth watching, but I felt very uncomfortable with a few scenes, such as the trial of Oppenheimer in the United States at the end.”

A student who saw the film today opined: “Hiroshima and Nagasaki, where the atomic bombs were dropped, are certainly the victims. But I think even though the inventor is one of the perpetrators, he’s also the victim caught up in the war.”

Takashi Hiraoka, the 96-year-old former mayor of Hiroshima, who spoke at a special screening earlier this month, said, “From Hiroshima’s standpoint, the horror of nuclear weapons was not sufficiently depicted.”

Per the Guardian, Professor Masao Tomonaga, an atomic bomb survivor and honorary director of the Japanese Red Cross Nagasaki Atomic Bomb hospital, said he took Oppenheimer to be an “anti-nuclear” film. “I had thought the film’s lack of images of atomic bomb survivors was a weakness. But in fact, Oppenheimer’s lines in dozens of scenes showed his shock at the reality of the atomic bombing. That was enough for me.”

Toshiyuki Mimaki, a co-chair of atomic bomb survivor groups confederation Hidankyo, noted: “I was waiting for the Hiroshima bombing scene to appear, but it never did. It’s important to show the full story, including the victims, if we are going to have a future without nuclear weapons.”

A younger Hiroshima resident told the paper, “This was really a film about Oppenheimer the man and the way he wrestled with his conscience, so in that sense, I think it was right not to broaden it out too much to show the aftermath.”

A survivor of Nagasaki, who lost five of his family members when the bomb was dropped, told The Japan Times that the film would help moviegoers consider what it means to have nuclear weapons. “I want as many people as possible to go see it,” he said. “We’ve entered an era where people don’t consider how these weapons can affect actual people, as it’s been around 80 years.”

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