Oscars: Takashi Yamazaki Discusses Similarities Between ‘Godzilla Minus One’ and ‘Oppenheimer’

In so many ways, Christopher Nolan’s intricate, making-of-the-bomb biopic Oppenheimer and Japanese director Takashi Yamazaki’s monster blockbuster Godzilla Minus One couldn’t be more different. But as the two films made their way through awards season this year, many fans began to comment on some of the two titles’ surprising thematic similarities — chiefly, a guilt-ridden meditation on nuclear war and its devastating aftermath. 

Before Nolan walked away with the Oscars for best director and best picture Sunday night, Yamazaki made history by giving the Godzilla franchise — which began over 70 years ago in Japan — its very first Oscar win, beating out four Hollywood tentpoles in the best visual effects category.

After his acceptance speech, Yamazaki was asked in the press room backstage at the Academy Awards about his thoughts on his film’s similarities with Oppenheimer and the significance of these two stories achieving such success in the same year. 

“Of course, the relationship or the juxtaposition was not intentional,” Yamazaki said. “As we were making the film, the state of the world and the geopolitical scene has changed quite a bit. It almost feels fated that both of these films were released in the same year.”

Yamazaki has previously spoken of his admiration for Oppenheimer, famously saying that he flew from Tokyo to Taiwan to watch the movie after its release in Japan was delayed amid local backlash to the “Barbenheimer” marketing phenomenon. 

Warner Bros. issued a formal apology last summer after the Twitter account for the Barbie movie sparked controversy by retweeting lighthearted memes that depicted Barbie surrounded in atomic blast imagery from Oppenheimer. Promoting the depiction of WWII nuclear devastation as an element in a fun marketing campaign for a pair of summer blockbusters offended many in Japan, where between 129,000 and 226,000 people were killed in the 1945 bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, most of them civilians. 

Oppenheimer is finally getting a release in Japan on March 29, but the film will be distributed by indie company Bitters End rather than local studio giant Toho, which typically handles all of Universal Pictures’ major releases. In a statement, Bitters End said it had decided to release the movie only after “months of thoughtful dialogue associated with the subject and acknowledging the particular sensitivity for us Japanese.”

Asked again backstage at the Oscars about his thoughts on Oppenheimer, Yamazaki suggested that he hopes to one day make a film about the dropping of the bomb on Japan and that such a work would serve as his proper response to Oppenheimer

“As a person of Japanese ancestry and descent, my response to Oppenheimer [is that] I would like to dedicate a different film to that when that day comes,” Yamazaki said.

Godzilla Minus One is a period film that takes the giant kaiju back to his roots, showing the creature emerging just as Japan is struggling to recover from the ravages of World War II. U.S. critics unanimously praised the film for the remarkable visual mileage Yamazaki got out of the project’s relatively small budget, as well as the story’s moving human drama and canonical use of the kaiju as a metaphor for social critique.

Yamazaki also spoke about the inspiration for his visual depiction of Godzilla Sunday night, saying: “We looked at a lot of different Godzillas throughout the years and as a team we wanted to get the essence of what we thought most actually represented what Godzilla is about. Godzilla, if you trace back to its origins, is a symbol of terror, war and nuclear power. I wanted to make sure that when audiences saw Godzilla, that fear would be instilled on them.”

Ryan Gajewski contributed to this report.

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