Hachijojima & Hachijokojima

When I watched ‘Battle Royale‘ (2000) recently for review in the Films Set In Japansection of this site I was under the impression that Hachijojima was where it was filmed and so I started doing my research on the place for this series which will enable me to dip back in to places I visited in Japan before Tokyo Fox went online. Whilst back in England last month I scanned some of the pictures and then I found out that my tenuous link between the film and the island I once visited wasn’t even true! It was actually filmed on Hachijokojima which is nearly five miles west of Hachijojima. Oh well, too late now!

Other than a few goats, Hachijokojima is uninhabited after the government evacuated people from the island, but its much bigger sister island is very much open to tourism. Both islands are actually part of Tokyo even though they’re located nearly 300km south of the mainland. Back in August 2005 my then-girlfriend and I, equipped with just the one t-shirt it seems, took a night ferry from Hamamatsucho at 10.30pm which arrived on the volcanic island some 11 hours later! Of course you can fly there a lot quicker with flights taking just under an hour but thankfully I managed to sleep most of the way there.

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Due to the fact that Hachijō-jima is a volcanic island, there are a few black sandy beaches with the main one being next to the main harbour of Sokodo (above) where we spent our first day in the foreground of the elegant but unoriginally named Hachijō-fuji mountain. With its wide-flowing appearance this image really does represent the island in a beautiful way. From what I remember we could do some snorkelling there and it was so hot that I just had to sit in the shade. I also did a couple of big jumps into the water (from the pier?) with the latter one affecting my hearing for a while after!

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The task the following day was to hike to the top of Hachijō-fuji which stands at 854m and is a composite volcano with an inner crater that has been dormant since its last eruption in 1707. The crater can be seen from a walking path around its rim which we reached from the fifth base where we parked our hired car. We ended up only walking round part of the rim (below) as it was so incredibly windy up there in stark contrast to the strong heat further down.

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Near the foot of the mountain we came across a small ranch called Fureai Farm (below) that offers some scenic views of the island. I can’t recall much else from here other than being surrounded by a load of cows amid all the mist whilst consuming some expensive ice-cream and milk coming directly (well more direct than the usual process anyway!) from the farm animals.

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I’m not usually one for hot spring baths in everyday life but on holiday its ok and so we did go to Uramigataki hot springs which is one of a handful of onsen‘s in the southern parts of the island. It was free, had nice views and was for both sexes meaning that bathing suits were required and, unlike in the western world, no soap or shampoo can be used. Shoes also had to be left at the top of the steps leading down to the pool. Uramigataki Falls is a nearby waterfall (below left) and offers further respite from the islands tropical humid atmosphere which is usually controlled at lower altitude by the cool winds blowing from the sea.

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A sushi restaurant, a secluded snorkelling area and Noboryotoge Lookout (above right) completed the second day before we got drunk after dinner and then met a Japanese guy who we went to the Anchor pub (not sure if it is still in operation) with which is owned by an Australian and Japanese couple and isn’t too far from  Sokodoko ferry landing. Not feeling so good the next morning we left the island, and its gentler, slower, old pace at 10.30am heading back to urban Tokyo!

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Review: Films Set In Japan – ‘Battle Royale’ (2000)

Due to overwhelming popular demand (two people!) it’s time to throw in my two cents on this Japanese movie which is included in this series owing to its popularity in the Western world. The violent ‘Battle Royale‘ (or ‘Batoru Rowaiaru‘ to give it its Japanese title and pronunciation) caused great controversy when it was originally released.

This film was first brought to my attention back in 2002 on the BBC show ‘Jonathan Ross’ Japanorama‘ (S01E02) and the story centres on an unruly high school class taken to a deserted Island for a maximum three day stay with the important word there being maximum! That’s because they have been forced by legislation to compete in a battle where they are forced to slaughter each other with only one person able to leave the island. In that sense, it has similarities to ’Letters From Iwajima‘ (2006) and funnily enough both Iwajima and Hachijojima, where ‘Battle Royale’ was filmed, are actually both in Tokyo despite them being islands hundreds of miles away going south.

The BR Act is explained to these unwitting participants by an annoying woman giving instructions to the students via an educational video in one of those really annoying squeaky girly voices that are just not pleasant on the ears of us foreigners. The students are each given a bag with a randomly selected weapon with a few food and water rations. The man handing these bags out is none other than the aptly named Kitano-Sensei played by none other than Takeshi Kitano who is a rare phenomenon as he is the director of some very violent movies. Yet, in spite of this, he is a much loved television personality who often appears on Japanese variety shows. Oh and he’s also an artist and one of his paintings appears towards the end of this film. For anyone who thinks the kids of today need some harsh discipline then they should watch this film to realise how absurd that is!

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This kill-or-be-killed take on ‘Lord of the Flies‘ focuses on a few of the students and how they cope. Whilst some of them do decide to play the game others try to find a way to get off the Island without violence. To be honest, I did find it a little hard to really get into the characters as the majority seemingly appear for just short periods but once the numbers begin to dwindle on an hourly basis it became easier to realise that Shuya and Noriko are the main protagonists. Like many stories, there are a mix of good and bad people which can easily be characterised into geeks, outcasts and superficial bitches. I didn’t realise it at the time but one of the students is Chiaki Kuriyama whose portrayal of Takako in this film was the inspiration for her character in Kill Bill: Volume I‘ (2003)where she played the schoolgirl bodyguard of O-Ren Ishii (Lucy Liu).

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Many people will be shocked by the unapologetic detail to graphic violence but despite all the gloom, blood and gore its a very watchable film with a comic feel in parts which moves along at a fast pace and is so compelling that it kept me hooked for 108 minutes. It is indeed quite moving at times as the characters are forced to confront such extreme circumstances amid the atmospheric tension and emotion created by a masterful soundtrack.

Tokyo Fox Rating 8/10