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Friday, Nov. 30, 2012
Hashima Island provides the inspiration for a villain's lair
Special to The Japan Times
There are a few things no self-respecting 007 super-villain can do without: an exotic beauty who will eventually betray you, a small army of expendable goons, and a way-cool secret lair in which to hatch your dreams of world domination. Bond villain lairs have ranged from Hugo Drax's orbiting space station in "Moonraker" to Ernst Stavro Blofeld's rocket base inside a live volcano (complete with piranha-filled pool) in "You Only Live Twice," but "Skyfall" returns to the private-island approach of the first movie in the series, "Dr. No."
Unlike the evil doctor's lush Caribbean idyll, however, "Skyfall" villain Raoul Silva resides in a crumbling micro-city in the middle of the Pacific that looks like it was hit by a neutron bomb. The film identifies it as being near Macau, but the actual island it's based on is Hashima — also known as Gunkanjima, for its resemblance to a gunkan (battleship) when glimpsed in profile — which is located about an hour by boat from Nagasaki.
While Dr. No lived over a bauxite mine, the actual purpose of Hashima was to house coal miners who worked a Mitsubishi-owned quarry, sometimes at depths of 600 meters below sea level. At its peak, the island housed over 5,000 people in concrete high-rises on an island not even 500 meters long. When Mitsubishi closed the mine and fired its workers in 1970, though, it depopulated overnight, making it modernity's first lost city.
The filmmakers couldn't actually film on Hashima: Typhoons have worn the concrete tenements down to a dangerous state of disrepair, and even the most intrepid stuntman would balk at running down halls that could cave in several stories at any moment. Instead, production designer Dennis Gassner visited the island and oversaw construction of an impressive facsimile at the 007-dedicated stage at Pinewood Studio (U.K.) for the scene where Silva forces Bond to do some target practice on a captive. Other bits were rendered digitally, though it's hard to tell. As Sam Mendes told Film Journal, "The basis for the movie is 'Make everything real, and then supplement it with visual effects.' So you (feel) it was real and in a sense it was, because it's three-dimensional."
Due to the dangers, Hashima was closed to the public until 2009, but it has been open to boat tours since then. Fans looking for a taste of super-villain ambience should have a look — boats depart regularly from the Nagasaki Port Ferry Terminal and the Tokiwa Terminal and run about ¥4,000 — but be advised that visitors are accompanied by tour guides and restricted to a few observation posts. Be sure to bring your Raoul Silva bad-hair wig.