Book a Trip to Raoul Silva’s Island Lair

While working on my post about Last Chance Harvey, I needed to find the location of a conversation between Harvey and Kate. My search not only led me to London’s Somerset House but to a slew of sites on the topic of “movie tourism,” as well, where I found that travelers can also visit the place where the wedding was filmed—Grosvenor House—and the setting for one of the couple’s walks—Belsize Park.

Now these places are impressive in their own way, but none of them is quite as fascinating as a locale in the latest James Bond film, Skyfall: the evil lair of Raoul Silva, 007’s latest nemesis. While the scenes inside Silva’s hideout were shot in a built-for-the-movie set at London’s Pinewood Studios, the long-distance shots are of a real-life place located nine miles off the coast of Japan—Hashima Island (pictured above). Not only does the island look sinister—a pile of abandoned and crumbling concrete apartment buildings jutting out of the ocean—but its backstory could supply an unsettling script for a film of its own. Clark Boyd, at PRI’s The World, writes that the island’s “true history is even creepier than you can imagine.”

Boyd goes on to give an overview of that history in this audio story (or you can read the article here).

Also, for a more in-depth treatment, including more details about life on the island, you can read Brian Burke-Gaffney’s article in the magazine Cabinet.

Hashima Island’s story in a nutshell is this:

In 1890 Mitsubishi bought the small outcropping of rock  for the coal that lay below the seabed underneath it. As coal production increased, so did the need for workers, and in 1916, the company built the first of many concrete structures to house them. In time, over 30 multi-story buildings were constructed, and in 1959 they were home to 5,259 people, including Japanese employees, their families, and forced laborers from China and Korea. Its 1,391 people per hectare (2.47 acres) in the residential area at that time is thought to be the highest population density ever recorded in the world.

Many of the people who lived on the island died there as well. Burke-Gaffney reports that by mid 1949, around 1,300 residents had lost their lives—from mining accidents, exhaustion, or malnutrition. “Still others had chosen a quicker, less gruesome death,” he writes, “by jumping over the sea-wall and trying in vain to swim to the mainland.”

In the late 1960s, petroleum replaced coal as Japan’s preferred energy source. Then, in 1974, Mitsubishi closed the mine, and all the inhabitants still there hastily left.

Following is a short documentary by Swedish filmmaker Thomas Nordanstad. In the film, Nordanstad follows Dotokou Sakamoto, a Japanese man who moved to Hashima Island with his family at the age of four, as he visits, among other places, the “hotel,” where new arrivals awaited permanent housing, his school, and the crumbling remains of his family home.

At the beginning of the documentary, Sakamoto says,

Some people say that your roots exist in the place where you were born, but that’s not the case for me. My roots are here, in this place.

And at the end, he adds,

In Japan, things are being thrown away so easily, just like that. But you can’t throw away your memories. The roots sit there, in your heart.

While the bulk of the island is closed to the public, in 2009 observation decks were opened at the island’s edge, with the boat ride from Nagasaki and a tour costing about $50.

To find the rest of the venues featured in Skyfall, go to The Worldwide Guide to Movie Locations, the self-described “ultimate travel guide to film locations around the world.” It’s a great resource that ties detailed info on places with plot points in the movie. And if you want to look up a film that’s not included there, you can try IMDb (International Movie Database). The location info there is less specific, but its movie list is much more comprehensive. (Search for “Filming Locations” on a movie’s page.)

(Clark Boyd, “The History of Hashima, the Island in Bond Film ‘Skyfall,'” PRI’s The World, November 23, 2012; Brian Burke-Gaffney, “Hashima: The Ghost Island,” Cabinet, Summer 2002)

[photos: “Nagasaki Hashima Island (端島) Gunkajima Tour” (top and bottom) by Ronald Woan, used under a Creative Commons license]


Better the Disappointment You Know?

Just last week, my wife and I watched Last Chance Harvey (2008) for the umpteenth time—well, maybe not the umpteenth time, but at least the umpth time. It evokes some particular emotions for us, as we first watched it on a plane ride back to the States during our time in Asia. We were coming back with some disappointments, and the movie—especially a conversation near the end—resonated with each of us. If you’re not familiar with the story, here’s a short synopsis, leading up to that exchange:

Harvey Shine (Dustin Hoffman) is a down-on-his-luck jingle writer from New York, flying to London for his daughter’s wedding. Kate Walker (Emma Thompson) is a Heathrow employee with the tedious job of interviewing travelers. Their first meeting begins with Kate’s attempts to ask Harvey the questions on her clipboard. It ends with Harvey rudely brushing her off.

Not only are things going poorly for Harvey on the job front, but he later finds out that his daughter has chosen her stepfather to walk her down the aisle—and there are obviously some family skeletons that reside in Harvey’s closet.

Things begin to look up, though, when Harvey meets up with Kate the next day at a Heathrow bar. Harvey has just missed his flight back to the States, and Kate is using a novel as an escape from failed blind dates and phone calls from her mother, with whom she lives.

Over the next several hours, Harvey and Kate begin to enjoy each other’s company, and they even see glimpses of a happy future together. The two attend Harvey’s daughter’s wedding reception and then wander around London, ending up at the fountains at Somerset House. They agree to meet there again at noon the next day. A spirited climb up his hotel steps puts Harvey in the hospital, just long enough to keep him from making the appointment. Not knowing the cause, Kate is crushed at having her emotions stood up . . . again.

Harvey tracks Kate down, even though she no longer wants to see him. She is wounded and fears being wounded even more. As Harvey tries to convince her that she should give their relationship a chance, they have their pivotal conversation, in which Kate says,

I’m not going to do it. I’m not going to do it, because it’ll hurt. . . . and I won’t do it. . . .

You see, what I think it is, is . . . is that I think I’m more comfortable with being disappointed. I think I’m angry with you for trying to take that away.

Since we were escorting our five children across the Pacific, my wife and I were separated during our flight, catching pieces of movies on our individual screens in between naps and meals. Sometime later during the trip, our youngest was asleep and we got to sit together for a while. We’d both watched Last Chance Harvey, and we both remembered what Kate had said. At the time we understood that even though disappointment is painful, it can become more comfortable than hoping for miracles and risking deeper loss. Maybe that’s why we continue to watch the film from time to time. . . because we still understand that. And when fear accompanies hope, as it often does, we do our best to press on, more guarded, but pressing on.

Last Chance Harvey doesn’t end with “happily ever after,” but it does end with a hopeful beginning. Harvey decides to stay longer in London, and Kate agrees to open her heart to the possibilities with him. As the two start down this new road together, Harvey remembers their first encounter and asks Kate to continue the interview that she’d started with him at the airport. She does:

“Name?” she asks.

He replies, “Harvey Shine.”

“Place of residence?”

“I’m in transition.”

Here’s the trailer:

And here’s a “Back Stage interview with Thompson and Hoffman, in which they talk about the mood and personality of the movie. When discussing the on-screen relationship between the two characters and how that was reflected in the film-making process, Hoffman says,

I always said that you always know who your friends are [. . . .] Your really good friends are the people that you can sit at a table with and not talk [. . . .] And we said, whatever the specialness about that relationship was, could we do this movie like that?

[photo: “Yellow Point: Somerset House Fountains,” by Tania Caruso, used under a Creative Commons license]