Sunday, February 17, 2013

Skyfall Scene A Haunted Desolation

The 007 film franchise hit $1 billion at the box office by the end of 2012 with the latest film Skyfall.
Like the previous films, this one has an array of eye-catching locations, and one particular island stands out for its desolation: Japan's Hashima. The island makes the perfect setting for the film's villian - a rotting heap of buildings sitting out in the ocean, so creepy that you think it can't be real. But it IS. And it's history is even creepier.
The island is known alternatively as Battleship Island or Border Island, and it's about nine miles off the Japanese coast in the East China Sea. In the late 1880s, coal was found on the sea floor beneath the island. The Mitsubishi company, which was mining the coal, ferried miners to the work site from Nagasaki. Then it decided it would be easier to simply build houses for the workers and families on Hashima itself. Giant multi-storey concrete apartment blocks sprang up. Schools, bathhouses, temples, restaurants, markets, even a graveyard were built, all on a space the size of a football field. Once they reached 5,000 people or more out there, it was the most densely populated place on earth…ever.

A decade or so ago, Swedish filmmaker Thomas Nordanstad became interested in Hashima and wanted to make a documentary, but he found the Japanese didn't want to talk about it: "A lot of people would turn away as soon as we started speaking about the island, almost like it was a leper colony." Eventually Norandstad found someone to take him to the island. His short film follows Doutoku Sakamato, whose family moved to Hashima when he was four.
Today Hashima is completely abandoned. The buildings are slowly falling down, worn away by the wind and the waves. So what happened?
In 1974 the coal ran out and Mitsubishi told the people that they'd have some work for them on the mainland, first-come first-served. Workers left in a mass exodus within a few days of the mines closing. Cups were left on tables, beds unmade, bicycles leaning against walls. Hashima is virtually a Marie Celeste island...
The 007 film only features external shots of Hashima: the scenes on the island were actually shot in a studio. That's because officials don't allow anyone to set foot on the island itself. But lately, interest in Hashima as a grisly tourist site has grown. A boardwalk has been built around half the island, but that's as close as you can get.
Meanwhile, there're calls for the island to be recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. But South Korea objects, because the Japanese allegedly used Koreans as slave labourers on Hashima. It's yet another shameful chapter in the island's history.
And, to add icing to the rotting cake, the place is haunted too...

[You'll find some great photos on Flickr: search under Battleship Island or Hashima Island...]

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