Gunkanjima (Battleship Island)

Ever since I saw some haikyo websites a fair few years ago giving details about this island I have wanted to go there and see it for myself. That dream finally came true in Nagasakion the first day of this month when I treated my girlfriend to a trip to Gunkanjima a.k.a. Battleship Island as its appearance resembles the warship Tosa due to its surrounding sea walls and multi-storey concrete buildings.

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This place was brought to the mass attention of the public when it featured in the most recent 007 film ‘Skyfall‘ (2012) but as we explained in this article from last year it was sadly all faked on a set back at Pinewood Studios. Other than a few movie posters on the boat there was no other mention of the 23rd James Bond movie being set (kind of) on Gunkanjima which was formerly known as Hashima.

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However, it still whetted my appetite for seeing the real thing so on our first morning in Nagasaki we stumped up a fairly pricey 4000 yen to go on a sightseeing boat that goes to the island. It should be noted that the ticket used to access Gunkanjima (included in the 4000 yen price) only costs 300 yen so I wonder if it’s possible to find a cheaper way of getting to this small island which is located about 20 kilometers from Nagasaki Ferry Terminal.

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Beforehand, my expectations were quite low as I knew it wasn’t a situation where we could wander off and explore the island how we see fit. Of course, there’s the small matter of safety concerns which is why tourist boats are restricted to just three areas on the western side of the island which have had walkways and viewing platforms constructed and that is the only work that has been done on the island in the name of tourism.

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The island is only 480m long and 150m wide but with 5300 residents once living there it had the worlds highest population density which meant that in typical Japanese fashion that every piece of land was built up and so it came to look like a massive battleship.

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Mistubishi company bought the Hashima mine at the end of the 19th century and that was the catalyst for the islands development. The southern half of the island was for the workings of the mine and the northern half  was devoted to residential space, a school, restaurants, shops, a swimming pool, a shrine and a hospital which the workers and their families called home.

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However, in April 1974 the mine was closed and these residents had to leave Gunkanjima, abandoning the island with all its buildings. Today, the only people you might see (other than tour group-related people)  are a few fishermen dipping their tackle in to see what bites!

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Following the exodus, severe weather conditions such as typhoons caused the buildings to deteriorate and as these structures started to erode away and collapse, Gunkanjimawas closed to the public, and for many years could only be seen from sightseeing cruises that circled the island.

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In the last few years though the place has been open to the public and now there are two boats a day (9am and 1pm) which transport tourists to and from the island.

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There are tour guides at each of the three observation areas who give short presentations about the history and background of the place. They’re only conducted in Japanese but having done my research on this place in the past I wasn’t too fussed about that. Besides, I was given a very nice and informative English guide pamphlet (when I purchased our tickets) which was more than satisfactory for me.

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We were probably on the island for around an hour which I thought was long enough. There were always a couple of guards at the back of the group but they never hurried you along or anything and even took photos for those who wanted them. On leaving the island we then circled the island which I was very happy about as I wanted to see it from as many angles as possible, particularly the backside which is rarely shown in any pictures of the place.

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The boat left Nagasaki Ferry Terminal (which is a 10-15 minute walk from Nagasaki Ekimae station) at exactly 9am and arrived back at about 11.30am where on disembarkation we were even presented with a stamped and dated certificate. I was and still am utterly fascinated by Gunkanjima and was more than pleased with the relatively high cost of the tour. It offered a thoroughly interesting insight into the island life and a sense of how isolated the islanders must have been.

Gunkanjima In Skyfall: Real Or Fake?

In the 2012 movie ‘Skyfall’, James Bond (Daniel Craig) is seen cruising on a boat (below) with the exotic-looking Sévérine (Bérénice Marlohe) to an abandoned island. Bond is taken prisoner by the crew and delivered to the antagonist Raoul Silva, who is a former MI6 officer that has turned to cyberterrorism having orchestrated the attacks on MI6. We’re led to believe this island is off the coast of Macau but in reality it is actually in the south-west of Japan. Or is it?

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Gunkanjima (formerly known as Hashima) is a small island located about 20 kilometers from Nagasaki Port which used to serve as a coal mine. The island is only 480m long and 150m wide but with 5000 residents once living there it had the worlds highest population density which meant that in typical Japanese fashion that every piece of land was built up and so it came to resemble a massive battleship hence the nickname “Gunkanjima” which  translates as battleship island.

Half of the island was for the workings of the mine. The other was devoted to residential space, schools, restaurants, shops, a public bath and a hospital which the workers and their families called home. However, in April 1974 the mine was closed and these residents had to leave Gunkanjima, abandoning the island with all its buildings.

Since then, severe weather conditions such as typhoons have caused the buildings to deteriorate and as these structures started to erode away and collapse, Gunkanjima was closed to the public, and for many years could only be seen from sightseeing cruises that circled the island.

In the last few years though the place has been open to the public. So you can now walk in the footsteps of James Bond and experience the eerie and haunting atmosphere of the place. Well, not quite.

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First of all, sightseeing boats do actually take you on a 4000 yen round trip from Nagasaki Port to the island and yes you do get to actually go onto the land and snap away with your camera but sadly its just from a few restricted viewpoints.

Secondly, the Gunkanjima scenes in the 23rd Bond film were in reality shot back at the famous Pinewood Studios which has been the home of so many 007 films. As for the long shots seen from the boat they were for real though I suspect Daniel Craig and co never went anywhere this tiny deserted outcrop. One assumes the scene with him and Sévérine on the boat was shot elsewhere and a bit of movie magic was used to blend the Gunkanjima long shots with those that you see below which were grabbed from this great ‘Behind the Scenes’ video on YouTube.

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Skyfall‘ director Sam Mendes said that this location was created using a hybrid of a set and computer-generated images.

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Whilst making The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo‘ (2011) in Sweden, Daniel Craig met film-maker Thomas Nordanstad, who produced a short documentary in 2002 called ‘Hashima‘, and took extensive notes about the infamous ‘dead city’ during that meeting. This supposedly played a part in the production team choosing to include the Hashima model.

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So, do I still have an interest in visiting this island despite it not actually being used in ‘Skyfall‘? Hell yeah! I saw some amazing photos and stories about this place a couple of years back on some ‘haikyo’ (abandoned ruins) websites which made me want to visit it. It’s inclusion in last years Bond movie, though not real, has actually whetted my appetite for getting myself over to Nagasaki to see that city and its attractions and whilst I’m there  a visit to Gunkanjima and its window into a world that once was would be a must.

TF Film Review: Skyfall (2012)

All good things come to those who wait is a very apt phrase given its been four years since ‘Quantum Of Solace‘ not to mention the extra 5 week wait for us movie fans in Japan. There has been a lot of hype surrounding the release of ‘Skyfall‘ which heightened by the fact that its also 50 years since the first Bond film, ‘Dr No‘ was released. That shouldn’t affect one’s judgement of this third film to star Daniel Craig in the secret agent role. However, I have to say that this isn’t just a great Bond film but it is indeed a fantastic film in itself.

First things first though, and one disappointment at the outset is that there is still no traditional gun barrel opener. The pre-titles Turkish scenes in Istanbul and Adana were thrilling and left me short of breath as the opening titles kicked in. Adele’s lovely theme tune is, unlike the last couple (which I do actually like), one where you can actually sing the title of the film.

I was pretty much spoiler free going into this film (albeit not quite to the extent of that of ‘The Dark Knight Rises‘ back in the Summer) other than knowing that it had something to do with M’s past coming back to haunt her. Judi Dench’s character comes out from the background of past films to basically co-star alongside Daniel Craig. Together in this I think were both absolutely brilliant with the latter wrestling with both his emotions and his physical and psychological attributes which have served him so well.

Unlike ‘Quantum of Solace‘ the plot of ‘Skyfall‘ is actually understandable and very topical of modern times with its storyline but there are also a few other bits to keep us fans really happy such as the introduction (re-inroduction?) of Q, the backstory on Moneypenny, some of Bond’s family history and the return of the Aston Martin DB5 car (from 1964′s ‘Goldfinger’) which doesn’t make too much sense but it’s a nice nod to the past.

As ever there was a good range of locations taking in the aforementioned Turkey as well as China, England, Scotland and even Japan with Hashima in Nagasaki a.k.a. Gunkanjima (Battleship island) kind of being used as the ‘Dead City’ island retreat of antagonist Silva (Javier Bardem) although in the film it’s off the coast of Macau. The long shots are real but sadly this was all filmed on set at Pinewood Studios. Nevertheless, I’d still love to visit this island one day.

I really did love seeing the scenery from back home of London and the Scottish Highlands or maybe I’m just a misty-eyed Brit living abroad! It was also nice to see BBC News’ Huw Edwards as well as CNN’s Wolf Blitzer perform their cameo news anchor duties within the film.

The name Skyfall refers to Bonds family estate and childhood home in Scotland (filmed in reality in Surrey) where he retreats to with M leaving a trail behind so that Silva can find them and thus turn the tables as they had always been one step behind him up until then. Along with the innkeeper they then basically defend from within with limited resources akin to that of ‘The A-Team‘ or even ‘Home Alone‘! The ending took me by surprise and I was so thankful that I didn’t know what was going to happen beforehand. It is a long film but its 142 minute entirety thankfully passed me by with relative ease.

I’m now just relieved that I can finally read other reviews, listen to a backlog of 007 related podcasts and look into adding to my already substantial list of Bond movie locations visited. Bring on the next installment.

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Tokyo Fox Rating 9/10