Summer in Japan has always been synonymous with blockbuster movie releases, and this year is no different. The peak season for box-office success falls between the end of July and the end of August, aligning with the summer break for students and the mid-August Bon holiday, when even workaholics take a well-deserved week-long vacation.
During this period, families frequently indulge in a rare outing to their local cinemas, prompting movie studios to focus on family-friendly offerings. One such icon of Japanese summer cinema is the esteemed anime master, Hayao Miyazaki. His animated fantasies have long dominated prime summer slots, captivating audiences of all ages, from children to their grandparents. His latest creation, “The Boy and the Heron,” premiered in 441 theaters on July 14 and quickly became a populist hit, grossing ¥3.6 billion on 2.32 million admissions within the first ten days.
While these light-hearted and family-oriented films thrive during the summer season, serious films catering to adult cinephiles are not excluded. The arthouse road movie “Yoko,” set to open on July 28, is a testament to this diversity. However, Japanese distributors tend to reserve releases from big-name directors with major awards potential for the fall and winter months, including those generating buzz for the prestigious Academy Awards. A prime example is Bong Joon-ho’s acclaimed film “Parasite,” which had its premiere at the Cannes Film Festival in May 2019 but didn’t see a wide release in Japan until January 10, 2020.
The fate of Christopher Nolan’s biopic, “Oppenheimer,” follows a similar pattern. Released by Universal Pictures in North America on July 21, the film boasts a talented cast led by Cillian Murphy, who portrays J. Robert Oppenheimer, the scientific leader of the Manhattan Project that developed the first atomic bombs. “Oppenheimer” earned an astounding $82.4 million during its opening weekend and received rave reviews from critics.
However, the film’s Japanese distributor, Toho-Towa, has yet to announce an opening date for the movie. A Variety article published on June 29 speculates that “Oppenheimer” may not see a release in Japan due to sensitivities surrounding its subject matter. Given Japan’s solemn observance of the anniversaries of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima (August 6) and Nagasaki (August 9), releasing the film during this time would be deemed inappropriate and potentially met with unfavorable reactions.
Despite this challenge, Christopher Nolan enjoys a significant following in Japan. His previous films, such as the 2010 sci-fi epic “Inception” and the 2020 thriller “Tenet,” grossed billions of yen at the Japanese box office. Moreover, “Oppenheimer” is generating Oscar buzz, with predictions of potential nominations for best picture, best director (Nolan), and best actor (Murphy) at next year’s Academy Awards. The possibility of other Oscar contenders delaying their releases due to the ongoing Hollywood writers’ and actors’ strike may further improve Nolan’s award prospects.
Considering these factors, it becomes clear that “Oppenheimer” has the potential to become another major success at the Japanese box office. Universal and Toho-Towa, aware of the financial implications of the strike, would be hesitant to miss out on a substantial revenue stream, despite concerns about potentially upsetting local sentiments regarding the man associated with the atomic bombings.
The unfolding “Oppenheimer”-in-Japan drama is far from its conclusion. Movie enthusiasts are advised to keep their popcorn ready and prepare for a captivating show with an unexpected ending.