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Home Culture A Japanese survivor of the atomic bomb: “20 years ago a film like ‘Oppenheimer’ was unthinkable in the United States” | Culture

A Japanese survivor of the atomic bomb: “20 years ago a film like ‘Oppenheimer’ was unthinkable in the United States” | Culture

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The movie Oppenheimer has achieved a box office record when it premiered in Japan last weekend thanks, in part, to an advertising campaign that brought together 23 national personalities, including a famous survivor of the Nagasaki atomic bomb and anti-nuclear activist. Dr. Masao Tomonaga, who survived the explosion in his home in Nagasaki when he was two years old, says in a telephone conversation with EL PAÍS that he positively values ​​Christopher Nolan’s film because “although the dialogues do not specify it, its antinuclear message underlies what throughout the entire work.”

“Twenty years ago it was impossible for a film like this to be made in the United States,” adds Masao Tomonaga, today a researcher specialized in blood diseases and known for having identified a special type of leukemia called myelodysplastic syndrome in survivors who were under ten. years at the time of the bombing. “Oppenheimer gives a correct view of the clash of powers that takes place during the development of weapons of mass destruction,” he continues. She first saw it last year in Chicago, where she was with a group of survivors giving lectures on the danger of nuclear weapons at American colleges and universities.

In Japan he saw it again as a guest at the pre-release screenings scheduled by the distributor in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the two cities attacked by the United States with atomic bombs at the end of the Second War in 1945, the development of which is told in the film. . The promotion of the film in Japan also included conferences, full-page advertisements in newspapers with comments from young viewers, and a website with opinions from actors such as Ken Watanabe (The last Samurai) and filmmakers such as Takashi Yamazaki (Godzilla Minus One).

Robert Oppenheimer and his wife, Katherine, meet Japanese citizens during their visit to Japan in 1960.

Historical (Corbis via Getty Images)

Watanabe, who worked with Nolan and Cillian Murphy on Batman Begins (2005), praises the work of these actors in Oppenheimer and explains that since Japan was the only country attacked by atomic bombs, he sat down to watch it “concerned.” The Japanese actor believes that Nolan managed to enter the mind of a “chaotic but sincere” man, creator of a bomb that “even today could end this world.”

Yamazaki, who with Godzilla Minus One won the Oscar for special effects this year, had a dialogue online with Nolan in which he suggests “a cinematic response to Oppenheimer made in Japan.” “No one better than you to direct it,” Nolan tells Yamazaki in a promotional video that until the first week of April had more than 100,000 views on YouTube. Godzilla, the monster protagonist of one of the longest-running franchises in the history of world cinema, was created in 1954 as a metaphor for the uncontrollable power of atomic energy and the danger of nuclear weapons. The more than thirty sequels to today’s classic monster movie are characterized by their spectacular sequences of mass destruction.

The explosions

In the film directed by Yamazaki, an explosion appears caused by the radioactive breath of the monster that recreates with great realism the devastation of the two atomic bombs on Japanese cities, the first, and so far the only ones, launched against the civilian population. The absence of similar sequences in Oppenheimer was received with mixed opinions by Japanese viewers.

Masaru Suzuki, a 35-year-old employee who saw the film in a cinema in the central Shibuya neighborhood, believes that showing the consequences of the bomb in Japan “was not necessary” and that “the director’s creative decisions should be respected.” For her part, Japanese sociologist Luli van der Does, professor at the University of Hiroshima, believes that “not showing the human consequences of the bomb reduces the visceral fear of the explosion and makes the idea of ​​a future nuclear war more feasible.”

The biography of the so-called father of the atomic bomb, the physicist Robert Oppenheimer, was released in many countries at the same time Barbie. The coincidence gave rise to the hashtag #Barbenheimer, with which a series of controversial memes were tagged that combined the two nuclear attacks against Japan with the fuchsia universe of the Mattel doll. Academics and intellectuals condemned the messages and associations of victims of the atomic bombs in Japan asked the North American distributor of Barbie a public apology for supporting a satirical explosion meme with the phrase: “It will be a summer you will never forget.”

In its Japanese debut, Nolan’s work grossed $2.5 million, the most among Hollywood releases so far this year, above Aquaman and the lost kingdom ($1.6 million) and Dune: part 2 (1.3 million dollars), according to sector sources. The premiere took place eight months after the global launch, on July 20, 2023, a date considered too close to the annual ceremonies that every August 6 and 9, in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, honor the victims of the atomic explosions and update the number of deaths due to the consequences of radiation.

In Japan, the nuclear holocaust is a recurring theme in numerous literary works, films, manga and anime stories that have as a common denominator the setting of a city burned by a huge explosion. Many Japanese children learn about the horrors of nuclear war when their schools organize visits to the Hiroshima and Nagasaki memorial museums, where they can see remains of the atomic explosions, recordings of survivors’ testimonies and many photographs.

The Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum announced this week that visits have risen to almost two million in the past 12 months, a year-on-year increase of more than 850,000 people, most of them foreigners and Japanese schoolchildren. The increase was attributed to interest in the city sparked by the G7 summit being held there in May 2023.

The total number of deaths as a result of the atomic bombs, updated in recent anniversaries, was 339,227 people in Hiroshima, and 195,607 people in Nagasaki. Some 127,000 irradiated survivors (called in Japanese hibakusha), with an average age of 83 years.

Many of the members of this group, who with their testimonies and the scars on their irradiated bodies defended article 9 of the Japanese Constitution (which renounces participation in international war conflicts), today reside in homes for the elderly, far from any activism. Its gradual disappearance from opinion forums has coincided with the rebirth of a rearmament policy that, justified by Chinese expansionism in East Asia, encourages spending on weapons inconceivable until 2012, when the then Prime Minister Shinzo Abe began his call “proactive pacifism.”

At the last G7 summit, the current Japanese Prime Minister, Fumio Kishida, proposed a document called Vision of Hiroshima, which calls for transparency regarding nuclear arsenals and highlights the importance of education and outreach on disarmament and non-proliferation in civil society, especially among young people.

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