Question: How did the creators of Skyfall, the latest James Bond film, come up with the idea for villain Raoul Silva’s spooky abandoned city lair?
Answer: They didn’t make it up…it’s real.
It’s a place called Hashima Island, although locals call it Gunkanjima—or Battleship—Island, because from a distance it looks like a hulking, menacing sea vessel. Up close, it looks even scarier.
Back in the 1880s, Hashima Island was a thriving coal mining center. Workers were ferried in every day from Nagasaki, about 18 miles away, until the mine owners figured it would be more efficient to relocate them to the island itself. So they built housing for the workers; as early as 1905 big concrete apartment blocks were erected, and around them were all the services a community could need—even a movie theater and a brothel. Nevertheless, Hashima Island was not a happy place to be and many of the workers were not there by choice.
By the 1960s, Hashima Island had a population of just over 5,000, which doesn’t sound like much until you consider that they were all crammed onto about 15.6 acres of land. (There was a time when Hashima Island had the highest population density of any place on earth—nine times that of Tokyo!)
Then, in an instant, it all came to a stop. The mine was exhausted in 1974 and the mining company offered workers jobs in another location on a first come, first served basis. Everyone literally dropped what they were doing and abandoned Hashima Island. And it’s remained that way ever since—inside the buildings are personal belongings of the former residents, the blackboards in the schoolroom still have the day’s lessons written on them, 1970s vintage equipment lies unused in the mine offices.
You can visit the island on a boat tour today, although you’re not free to roam where you like because there are all sorts of hazards in the abandoned buildings. (Aside from a few exterior shots, most of the Skyfall scenes were shot on a soundstage set.) Some people say there are ghosts on Hashima Island, too. There might even be an evil genius lurking in the shadows.
Hat tip to Clark Boyd at PRI’s The World.