Japanese Barbie Film Account Apologizes For “Barbenheimer” Meme

Japanese Barbie Film Account Apologizes For “Barbenheimer” Meme

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Text reads "Japanese backlack to Barbenheimer" superimposed upon blurred images of Twitter posts about the meme.
Around the world, the Barbenheimer meme has helped launch two Hollywood films into the stratosphere. In Japan, the meme isn't going over nearly as well.

The official Japanese X (formerly Twitter) account for the film Barbie has issued an apology for the popular “Barbenheimer” meme. This response follows significant negative response on Japanese social media spaces to the meme, which fuses Barbie with the biographic film Oppenheimer. The two films released on the same day in many countries. The official US X account for the film acknowledging the meme has triggered a particularly strong response.

The Japanese poster for the film Barbie, featuring Margot Robbie as Barbie and Ryan Gosling as Ken in a pink convertible. The "Barbenheimer" memes related to the film are starting a backlash in Japan.
The Japanese poster for Barbie (2023), scheduled to release on the 11th. Oppenheimer, the other half of the Barbenheimer meme, does not yet have a release scheduled for the Japanese market.

Japanese Social Media Users Start #NoBarbenheimer Response

“Barbenheimer,” sometimes stylized as “#Barbenheimer,” is a meme that suggests viewing the two films back-to-back in a double feature. It gained traction due to the films’ same-day release as well as their drastically different tones. Oppenheimer is a dark biographical movie about J. Robert Oppenheimer, one of the leaders of the Manhattan Project, which developed the world’s first nuclear weapon. Barbie, meanwhile, is a generally light-hearted comedy about the popular Mattel doll. It stars Margot Robbie as the titular Barbie and Ryan Gosling as Ken.

Japanese social media users have expressed dislike of the “Barbenheimer” meme. Many feel that it is inappropriate to pair a serious discussion of nuclear weapons with the comedy of Barbie. Responses to the meme indicate that “Barbenheimer” makes light of Japan’s experience as the only country in the world to experience bombardment by a nuclear weapon. The bombings were highly traumatic events that caused the deaths of tens of thousands and still strongly affect the country today. Notably, Oppenheimer has not yet released in Japan, and there are currently no plans to do so. (Barbie, on the other hand, will release in Japan on August 11, and excitement is high, with many limited-time merchandise collaborations already popping up.) [1]

むぎ@ゲーム on Twitter: “翻訳機頼りだからちゃんと伝わらないかもしれないので日本語版。公式や企業便乗したから日本人は怒ってるんだけど理解出来ないかな? pic.twitter.com/Zijy6WDJPV / Twitter”

翻訳機頼りだからちゃんと伝わらないかもしれないので日本語版。公式や企業便乗したから日本人は怒ってるんだけど理解出来ないかな? pic.twitter.com/Zijy6WDJPV

Many Japanese X users have commented on posts featuring the meme with the hashtag “#NoBarbenheimer.” This is often accompanied by facts or statistics regarding the effect of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings, images of the destruction of the two cities, or screenshots from Japanese media portraying the events, such as from the film Barefoot Gen. (This last is a harrowing animated film based on the manga by A-bomb survivor Nakazawa Keiji.) A comic by X user @h00atmr explains the Japanese stance in more detail, stating that many do not object to Oppenheimer being made, but find the crossover meme disrespectful as it makes light of a serious event.

A shot from the anime film Barefoot Gen (1983), part of a sequence that graphically depicts the atomic bombing of Hiroshima.

US “Barbie” Account Engages With Barbenheimer Meme

On July 11, the X account @DiscussingFilm shared a “Barbenheimer” meme poster by artist Steve Reeves. It featured Robbie’s Barbie riding on the shoulders of Cillian Murphy’s Oppenheimer, with an image in the background that resembles an explosion. On July 20, one day before the films’ dual release, the US X account for Barbie responded to the image with the line “It’s going to be a summer to remember.”

Japanese X users responded negatively to the post, feeling that it made light of real-life events. They especially responded negatively to the wording “summer to remember,” as both bombings occurred during the summer (on August 6 in Hiroshima and August 9 in Nagasaki.)

Currently, the post has nearly 10,000 combined reactions, with many responses and Quote Tweets featuring the #NoBarbenheimer hashtag. Readers have also added context to the “summer to remember” message referencing the dates of the bombings. It includes the phrasing “The particular nature of the damage caused by the atomic bombs is that mass destruction and mass murder occurred instantaneously and indiscriminately.” This is a translation of part of the City of Hiroshima’s official statement regarding the bombings. [2]


Official Japanese “Barbie” Account Issues Apology

On July 31, the official Japanese X account for Barbie issued an apology. They referred to the “Barbenheimer” meme as “spontaneous” and created by “foreign fans.” They apologized for the official US Barbie account engaging in the meme, agreeing that this was “thoughtless” and not appropriate. The post distanced the film from the meme. The apology emphasized that “Barbenheimer” had no official connection to the Barbie film and was entirely fan-created.

Responses have been mixed. Some appreciate the apology, while others feel that it is insufficient. Some have called for the US Barbie account to apologize as well. Currently, that account has not commented on the situation. Others feel that the premiere of Barbie in Japan should be delayed or canceled entirely. As of this writing, Barbie will still release in Japan on August 11 as originally planned.


[1] Livedoor. https://news.livedoor.com/article/detail/24712926/

[2] City of Hiroshima. https://www.city.hiroshima.lg.jp/site/atomicbomb-peace/9399.html

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Kay Benton

Kay is a longtime Japan enthusiast and former participant in the JET Program. Their favorite thing to do when traveling in Japan is visiting as many onsens as possible.

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