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]