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Mixed Reactions Trail ‘Oppenheimer’ Premiere In Japan

Due to the delicate nature of the Oppenheimer’s subject matter, there was cautious anticipation for the film’s release in Japan.

On Friday, “Oppenheimer” finally premiered in the country where two cities were obliterated 79 years ago by the nuclear weapons invented by the American scientist who was the subject of the Oscar-winning film.

Japanese filmgoers’ reactions understandably were mixed and highly emotional.

Toshiyuki Mimaki, who survived the bombing of Hiroshima when he was 3, said he has been fascinated by the story of J. Robert Oppenheimer, often called “the father of the atomic bomb” for leading the Manhattan Project.

With sadness in his voice he said, “What were the Japanese thinking, carrying out the attack on Pearl Harbor, starting a war they could never hope to win.”

He is now chairperson of a group of bomb victims called the Japan Confederation of A- and H-Bomb Sufferers Organization and he saw “Oppenheimer” at a preview event. “During the whole movie, I was waiting and waiting for the Hiroshima bombing scene to come on, but it never did,” Mimaki said.

The events that transpired on the ground when the bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, quickly reducing 100,000 people to ashes and killing thousands more in the days that followed, the majority of them civilians, are not explicitly shown in “Oppenheimer.”

Rather, the movie centers on Oppenheimer as a person and his inner struggles.

Due to the sensitive nature of the movie’s subject matter, there was cautious anticipation for the film’s release in Japan, which took place over eight months after its premiere in the United States.

Speaking at a movie preview in the southwest city of Hiroshima, former mayor Takashi Hiraoka was more critical of what was left out.

“From Hiroshima’s standpoint, the horror of nuclear weapons was not sufficiently depicted,” he was quoted as saying by Japanese media. “The film was made in a way to validate the conclusion that the atomic bomb was used to save the lives of Americans.”

A few viewers gave compliments. A man remarked the film was excellent as he left a Tokyo theater on Friday, emphasizing that Japanese people were very interested in the subject matter despite its emotional volatility. Another claimed that the parts in the movie that showed Oppenheimer’s inner agony made him cry.

Kazuhiro Maeshima, professor at Sophia University, who specializes in U.S. politics, called the film an expression of “an American conscience.”

Maeshima said that those who expect an anti-war movie may be disappointed, but the telling of Oppenheimer’s story in a Hollywood blockbuster would have been unthinkable several decades ago, when justification of nuclear weapons dominated American sentiments.

“The work shows an America that has changed dramatically,” he said.

Others suggested the world might be ready for a Japanese response to that story.

The director of “Godzilla Minus One,” Takashi Yamazaki said in an online dialogue with “Oppenheimer” director Christopher Nolan, “I feel there needs to be an answer from Japan to “Oppenheimer”. Someday, I would like to make that movie.” Nolan heartily agreed.

A lawyer, Hiroyuki Shinju wrote in his commentary on “Oppenheimer”, “This movie can serve as the starting point for addressing the legitimacy of the use of nuclear weapons on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, as well as humanity’s, and Japan’s reflections on nuclear weapons and war”.

Melissa Enoch

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