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Hashima Island, better known as Gunkanjima (lit. Battleship Island) due to its warship-like silhouette, is a small island off the coast of Nagasaki with a remarkable history. Owned by Mitsubishi as a coal mining facility from 1887 to 1974, this was once the most densely populated place on the planet, with more than 5,000 inhabitants crammed into its 6 square-kilometre dimensions. Now, the place is deserted and all that's left of the once-bustling metropolis is an eerie landscape of crumbling, grey buildings.
When the Bond villain Raoul Silva chose the island as his secret lair in the latest 007 movie Skyfall, Gunkanjima received worldwide attention. But did Bond's nemesis know that the island is home to Japan's first-ever multi-storey concrete reinforced apartment block? We visited the island and checked out areas off-limits to the public to find out more about what makes this the perfect villain's lair. Take the full virtual tour and see our photos after the jump.
Without a doubt, the absolute highlight of our visit to Gunkanjima was spending time in the tightly packed and hauntingly dilapidated apartment blocks. When the mine closed in 1974, the entire island community left in a matter of days, catching final boats to the mainland and leaving behind a ghostly museum of their former lives, complete with abandoned toys and household items. Closed to the public for more than 30 years, Gunkanjima and its famous high-rise apartment blocks became a holy grail for enthusiasts with a penchant for visiting and photographing haikyo, or ruins. Although tours to the island started in 2009, most of the interesting ruins — including the deserted apartment blocks — still remain off-limits to the public. The RocketNews24 team was lucky enough to join members from Sony Corporation to get special access to these buildings in March. After our time there, we had a real sense of how a Bond villain could become a haikyo enthusiast; and why Gunkanjima became the inspiration for an iconic lair. In fact, we think this little island has the credentials to house a few more movie villains in the future. Here are five reasons why.
- The island has many secret, off-limit areas
The island was off-limits to the world for more than three decades. So all the good hiding spots are now free for the first person who calls dibs on them. Sure, visitors now have access to the island, but their entry is limited to one boat dock only and they have to keep to a special walkway designed with safety in mind. With restrictions like these, there'll be no problems keeping an eye on pesky outsiders and making sure they stay out of the way. There are still plenty of secret areas in pristine states of decay, perfect for vengeful meditations and the atmospheric echoing of evil laughter.
- Drones work well to keep an eye on the area
The Sony team we travelled with filmed a large part of the island's prohibited areas with one of their HD video recorders mounted to a radio controlled helicopter. They got some amazing aerial shots and managed to go where no person could go before, well not for 30 years anyway. Check out some of the footage below. With this type of surveillance equipment around, villains can relax; the less time spent on physical patrols and paranoia, the more time for devising intricate plans of destruction.
- No parks or vegetation but there is still decay… sweet decay
Everything on this island is a man-made construction. It even comes complete with a levee protection wall. There were never any parks or green areas so there was nothing to stop the building of building upon building upon building. Nature came only in the form of torrential rain and typhoons so now villains can enjoy the effects of natural erosion, including broken windows, crumbling balconies and rusty, warped steel skeletons jutting out from exposed concrete. This desolate environment has the power to move even the hardest of villains and nourish their souls.
- You can feel the torment of past love and happiness
In its heyday, the island had about 40 buildings. It was a bustling community with schools, restaurants, shops and even a hospital. The apartment blocks would have housed families and friends, babies and children, all full of hope and promise. It's hard to believe how sad and lonely we felt while looking at these empty, abandoned buildings that were once vibrant and full of life. Villains know the pain of having love and happiness ripped away from them, so they can exorcise their torment here by bonding with an environment that understands their plight.
- You can record and preserve the island's unique landscape for future generations of avengers
It's unfortunate but we don't know how much longer these buildings will be around for. If we leave things the way they are now, it's quite possible that the buildings will simply crumble and collapse. Where will future villains be if the island and its ambience disappear into the world of folklore and fairy tales? We really hope the island will be registered as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, but for now the only way we can preserve the island for future posterity is through photography and video. Who knows, a bit of preservation work could be just the ticket for a villain wanting to turn over a new leaf and start a new life. Or at least pave the way for the start of an interesting sequel…
Source: Sony Action Cam
Check out the videos and photos from our day on the island below:
Our island transport: "Gunkanjima Concierge".
Breakfast on the boat.
Arrival! Port to Island in 40 minutes.
The Sony team photographing the elementary/junior high area.
The Sony team preparing their equipment before sunrise.
Ta-da! The Sony Action Cam (HDR-AS15) mounted on the "multicopter".
Damaged buildings. A sight to move a villain.
An hour after arrival. Finally, the sunrise!
You know you're in an off-limits area when there's this much rubble around.
Residence number 65. Balconies from the ground floor up to the third floor have all collapsed.
Time for the Sony team to start filming! The experienced radio control pilot takes control of the "multicopter".
After multiple battery changes between flights, the first shots are in the bag.
Next we visit the pool of water under the elementary/junior high buildings.
Waterproof case on, it's time for some underwater shots!
Next, we go to the remains of a Shinto shrine.
The main hall of worship is gone and only the small shrine remains.
With the multicopter at this height, there'll be a nice full shot of the island.
Inside the apartments. If you put a step wrong here then there's a real possibility you could fall down to the next floor.
Now the water has receded from under the elementary/junior high buildings, it's time for Action Cam again!
In the not too distant future the elementary/junior high foundations could very well collapse.
At the can factory ruins in the west part of the island.
On the roof of building number three, the tallest building on the island.
Danger! One side of the walled roof has totally crumbled away.
Looking down into the abyss below.
Final shots go off without a hitch. Filming complete!
From this distance, you can really see the battleship silhouette that gives the island its nickname.
The setting sun comes out from behind the clouds as if to say goodbye.
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