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In the James Bond movie Skyfall, the abandoned Japanese island of Hashima serves as the secret headquarters of the Bond villain played by Javier Bardem.
In reality the island serves as a sobering reminder of industrialization, war, and the human toll it can exact. At the turn of the 20th century, was a bustling coal-mining town owned by the Mitsubishi Corporation.
In the panoramic shot of Bond approaching Hashima by boat, it’s clear to see why this island in the middle of the ocean with high-rise buildings sprouting from it has been nick-named “Battleship Island”. In fact, the island was actually torpedoed during World War II by American submarines.
At the dawn of World War II the Japanese turned the island into a forced labor camp for Chinese and Korean prisoners.
Modern buildings made up of apartments as small as 10-square meters with shared kitchen and bathroom facilities, continued to sprout across the tiny island. Soon Hashima (also known as Gunkanjima) had over 30 concrete residential blocks, 25 shops, a school, two swimming pools, a hospital and a graveyard.
Hashima Island came about as a result of the country’s rapid industrialization. Once a thriving coal-mining town owned by Mitsubishi, eventually it became home to more than 5,000 employees and their families. From 1887, Mitsubishi mined coal from the sea floor under Hashima and at its peak was producing more than 400,000 tons in the early 1940’s.
Mitsubishi illegally forced Korean and Chinese prisoners to mine coal 600 meters below sea level between 1943 and 1945.
Some 500 Koreans and 200 Chinese were brought over on Mitsubishi-owned boats known as “Hell-ships” that transported prisoners to their assigned destinations for forced labor. It is believed over one hundred forced laborers at Hashima died on the island.
By 1959 the island had the highest population density on Earth (139,100 per square kilometer) and living conditions were horrible. To put it in perspective, Hong Kong’s population density was recorded at 6,782 people per square km in 2010. Hashima residents were literally living on top of each other in prison-like conditions. In 1974, after more than a century, Mitsubishi closed the mine. The company offered alternate jobs to a small fraction of people: Within weeks, the most densely populated place ever recorded on earth was completely deserted. Today the island is remains completely abandoned and has been for more than 38 years.
For many years, visitation to the island was forbidden, punishable by deportation from Japan. But in 2002, Swedish filmmaker Thomas Nordanstad visited the island with a Japanese man named Dotokou, who grew up on Hashima. The occasion marked the first time that Dotokou had been on the island as an adult, and his experience was nothing short of harrowing. Throughout his visit, the former Hashima resident found memories from his childhood; the decorations his mother hung on their apartment walls, and remembering a deceased friend with whom he grown up on the island and who had remained behind, buried in the island cemetery. Nordanstad documented the trip in a film called Hashima, Japan, 2002. in 2008, as interest in the mysterious island grew, it was proposed that Hashima be designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site. It has yet to be designated, possibly due to the protests of South Korean authorities, who object on the grounds of the suffering incurred by Korean forced laborers during the war. Remaining survivors today have yet to be compensated by the Japanese government or Mitsubishi.
In 2009, Hashima was allowed to be re-opened to the public and can now be visited by tour groups. Many areas are unsafe and restricted and tour guides keep a strict eye on the visitors they bring.
For this reason, some of the riskier action scenarios set on the island with Daniel Craig, Javier Bardem and the Skyfall cast were likely filmed on a re-created set at the famous Pinewood Studios: Even so, you can’t mistake the film’s shots of the real island.
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