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Hollywood blockbuster ‘Barbie’ opens in Japan after atomic bomb controversy

Hollywood blockbuster ‘Barbie’ opens in Japan after atomic bomb controversy
A visitor takes a photo of the biggest cinema screen in the Middle East prior to showing the 'Barbie' movie at Roxy Cinemas at Dubai Hills Mall in the Gulf emirate of Dubai, United Arab Emirates, 10 August 2023. Roxy Cinemas host a Barbie Blowout Party in celebration of the UAE release of the film which is available for the age 15+. The film Barbie has been banned in Kuwait and faces calls of ban in Lebanon because it is promoting 'sexual deviance', according to the Lebanese culture minister. EPA-EFE/ALI HAIDER

Hollywood blockbuster "Barbie" hit theatres in Japan on Friday, where "Barbenheimer" memes linking the doll-themed film with the atomic bomb caused a stir and made distributor Warner Bros WBD.O apologise ahead of the release.

Tickets for “Barbie”, starring Margot Robbie in the title role, nevertheless sold fast in Japan as fans flocked to the theatrical release, timed to coincide with a national holiday marking the first day of Japan’s extended summer holiday week.

“The pink world of Barbie was absolutely beautiful,” said Misaki Suzuki, 29-year-old nail salon worker, after watching the film at a Tokyo cinema.

“Barbie” has topped $1 billion in global box office since its July 21 debut, making writer and director Greta Gerwig the first female filmmaker to surpass that benchmark as a solo director. The success of the fantasy-comedy was further boosted by the coupling with “Oppenheimer”, the biopic chronicling the creation of the atomic bomb during World War Two that opened on the same weekend.

But the “Barbenheimer” combo sparked a backlash in Japan, as the nation earlier this month marked the memorials of the U.S. atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki 78 years ago.

In now-deleted posts on platform X, formerly known as Twitter, Warner Bros’ “Barbie” marketing account had latched on to fan-produced memes that depicted Robbie with “Oppenheimer” actor Cillian Murphy alongside images of nuclear blasts.

A Change.org petition was launched on Aug 1, demanding that Warner Bros and Universal Pictures, the studio behind “Oppenheimer”, call a halt to the #Barbenheimer hashtag on social media. It has collected about 22,600 signatures to date.

A #NoBarbenheimer hashtag trended in Japan at the time, prompting Warner’s Japan division to issue a rare public criticism of its U.S. parent company, which then followed with an apology last week.

Mitsuki Takahata, who voiced Barbie in the dubbed Japanese version, said in an Aug 2 Instagram post that she was dismayed upon learning of the memes. “This incident is really, really disappointing,” she posted.

Still, Japanese fans of the movie, which sends Mattel Inc’s MAT.O iconic doll into real life, said the controversy did not discourage them from visiting theatres.

“It was harsh”, said 24-year-old university student Rie Takeda, commenting on the fan-produced #Barbenheimer memes.

“But the movie was radiant, beyond that I had fun” watching it, she said.

No Japan release date has been announced for “Oppenheimer”, which has been criticised for largely ignoring the atomic bomb’s destruction of two major Japanese cities in 1945, accounting for more than 200,000 deaths.

(Reporting by Kantaro Komiya and Akiko Okamoto; Additional reporting by Rocky Swift, Editing by William Maclean)

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