Sunday, April 21, 2024

Island Gossip

Asia: The Real Island Inspiration for James Bond Villain's “Skyfall” Lair

After taking a long break from the stereotypical “evil super-villain with a private island”, “Skyfall” is bringing it back with a creepy lair based on a real Japanese island.

(Hashima Island pictured from the sea in 2011)

With privacy and seclusion galore, could there be a better place to plot world domination than a remote island? The James Bond franchise rocketed this idea to media fame with 1962’s film adaptation of “Dr. No”, where the titular evil doctor hatched his plans from Crab Key, a fictional isle between Jamaica and Cuba. In the latest James Bond film, “Skyfall”, there’s a new villain with a private island – but the hideout of M16 spy-turned-baddie Raoul Silva is far from Dr. No’s lush tropical paradise.

In fact, unlike the paradisiacal Crab Key, which was cleverly shot on the Jamaican mainland to make it look like a small island, Raoul Silva’s island is probably the last place anyone would want to book a vacation. Located off the coast of the Chinese territory of Macau, it hosts an abandoned chemical plantation and an incredibly eerie atmosphere.

The real inspiration for the fictional island is Hashima, found about an hour’s boat ride from Nagasaki. A tiny island of just 16 acres, at its peak it had a population of 5,259: mining workers who lived in the many apartment blocks that have since fallen into ruin. Purchased by the Mitsubishi Company in 1890, the island was used as a residence for laborers in underwater coal mine. When petroleum became Japan’s dominant energy source in the mid-20th century, the mine was closed – and in 1974, Hashima was permanently abandoned.

(Decaying apartment blocks on the island)

The rough waves and scouring storms of the Nagasaki Prefecture have destroyed much of the island’s infrastructure; the apartment blocks, built of sturdy concrete to withstand typhoons, have almost completely succumbed to the elements. This post-apocalyptic decay has caught the eye of the Western media – the “Ghost Island” has been featured on the History Channel and a number of independent productions.

It’s no surprise then, that the producers of “Skyfall” would find inspiration on Hashima for their villain’s crumbling hideout. The instability of the island’s structures made it too dangerous to actually film there, but the film’s production designer visited Hashima and created a fantastic set at Pinewood Studios that emulated its crumbling architecture and strange, post-human environment.

Fans of the James Bond series – or just of creepy places – will be pleased to know that boat tours of the island are available from Nagasaki.

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