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Japan opening of ‘Barbie’ marred by controversy ahead of nuclear memorials

Margot Robbie attends the European premiere of “Barbie” in London, Britain July 12, 2023. REUTERS/Maja Smiejkowska

TOKYO, Aug 3 (Reuters) – The Japan opening of “Barbie” was dealt additional setbacks after a voice actor spoke out against a controversial grassroots marketing movement for the hit film and the U.S. ambassador caught flack for promoting the film online.

“Barbie”, which stars Margot Robbie in the title role, recently grossed $800 million in global box office, helped in part by a viral “Barbenheimer” meme that paired the film with a biopic of nuclear bomb scientist J. Robert Oppenheimer that opened at the same time.

“Barbie” producer Warner Bros (WBD.O) initially latched on to fan-produced memes that depicted Robbie’s Barbie with actor Cillian Murphy’s Oppenheimer alongside images of nuclear blasts.

But fans were not amused in Japan, which in coming days will mark the memorials of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki 78 years ago.

A #NoBarbenheimer hashtag trended online, prompting Warner’s Japan division to issue a rare public criticism of its parent company, which then followed with an apology this week.

Mitsuki Takahata, who voices Barbie in the dubbed Japanese version, posted on Instagram on Wednesday that she was dismayed upon learning of the memes marketing campaign and considered dropping out of a promotional event in Tokyo hyping its opening on Aug. 11.

“This incident is really, really disappointing,” she posted.

The media-savvy U.S. Ambassador to Japan Rahm Emanuel posted a picture of his meeting with director Greta Gerwig, but the response online was chilly.

“Your post at this time will get on the nerves of many Japanese, and will further solidify their resolve to never go to see that movie,” replied a poster known as tsuredzure on the X platform formerly known as Twitter.

No Japan release date has been announced for “Oppenheimer”, which chronicles the creation of the atomic bomb. The film has been criticised for largely ignoring the weapon’s destruction in Japan towards the end of World War Two, obliterating two major cities and accounting for more than 200,000 deaths.

Reporting by Rocky Swift
Editing by Chang-Ran Kim and Michael Perry

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

Reports mainly on pharma, retail and breaking news in Japan. Previously worked at U.S. Department of State and Bloomberg News before that. New College of Florida and University of Hawaii alum. Former Poynter and JAIMS fellow.

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