“Forgotten Planet”

The documentary “Forgotten Planet” was made by the Discovery Channel in 2011. In Michael Gakuran’s article, he explains that the crew was two full days of filming on the island and access to pretty much anywhere on it! Said crew consisted of several local filmmakers from Nagasaki, director Jim Hense, 3D cameraman Tom Collins, fixer Noriko Uchida, Michael Gakuran himself and of course, the passionate former resident of Hashima, Doutoku Sakamoto, who we previously saw in Nordanstad and von Haussewolff’s 2002 documentary.

The resume of the ‘Forgotten Island’ series is as follows: “Explore the cast-offs of humanity – buildings, compounds and even entire cities abandoned by humans for years. Fogotten Planet takes you to places forgotten by time eerie locations that once hummed with activity and now are desolate. Enter the eerie emptiness of the city of Chernobyl, walk the halls and streets of abandoned Hashima Island, the Old West ghost town of Bodie, the transplanted German village of Kolmanskop – abandoned in the Namibian desert. What happens when humans abandon a place? Tune-in to find out why people left.”

Hashima was featured in episode 6 of the series.

“The Bodies Left Behind”

“The Bodies Left Behind” is the pilot episode of the ‘Life After People’ series by the History Channel. The resume of the episode states:

“In the first episode of new series Life After People, we’ll see what happens to some of the bodies left behind. Most are embalmed and buried, some are mummified, while others have been cryogenically frozen. Will any of them truly achieve immortality? Or will they be outlived by other memorials to mankind, like the Statue of Liberty or the Sistine Chapel.

This is just part of a journey that will take us to the future of cities such as Boston and Houston, as well as haunting sites already devoid of man.”

The series is an exploration of what will happen to our planet – should the catastrophic happen and we all suddenly disappear a week from next Tuesday. As a concept, it’s thoroughly intriguing and the first episode certainly does a good job of teasing the audience with enough visuals and hypotheticals. But there’s a catch to it all. There’s a new aesthetic to documentaries – one which focuses on flashy transitions and quick-hit facts which tends to emphasize breadth, rather than depth. That is precisely the impact of this episode – which, unfortunately, doesn’t serve the overall concept as well as it might have otherwise.

The structure of the episode is to follow the fate of humanity’s quest for “immortality” from the mummies of Ancient Egypt, to our proudest architectural creations, to cryogenics, to the “Immortality Drive” (a computer representation of the human genetic code) in orbit on the international space station. The problem here is a bit of disconnect with the episode’s title – which implies a discussion of the human “bodies” that are left after the end of our species. Getting by that minor inconsistency, there’s quite a bit of intriguing information to be had.

Jumping from one day to months, years, decades and millennia into the future, the episode describes the fate of landmarks such as the Houston Astrodome, the Statue of Liberty, Boston’s Old North Church, and Michaelangelo’s frescoes. The emphasis, of course, is to detail just how long these relics of humanity will hang around. In case you’re wondering, most of these structure won’t last much more than two-hundred years after people are gone. And the episode convincingly portrays the ravages of time by way of computer-generated effects.

The centerpiece of the episode is an extended tour of Hashima Island, in Japan. Nicknamed “Battleship Island” (because of its shape), it was once a town of thousands built around a coal mine. But it was abruptly deserted thirty-five years ago and has been without humanity ever since. As a result, Hashima Island is a case study in how concrete and steel structures withstand the elements – particularly those of a marine environment.  If there’s a reason to watch the episode, it’s the Hashima Island segment.

The segment features Brian Burke-Gaffney and the way the documentary puts the story of the island (with his help) is a little bit like this:

“35 years after the disappearence of people, homes, offices and factories are cracking and subsiding, as nature takes over. It’s a future that has already come to pass in one remote corner of the world. Several miles off the southwest coast of Japan a forsaken island stands lifeless and decaying. Hashima Island was once a thriving coal-mining town and homes to thousands of people. Now it’s abandoned offices and residcential buildings are literally exploding under nature’s relentless hands. Because of the unsafe conditions Hashima is strictly off limits to visitors. In the 1890s Japan’s Mitsubishi company began mining coal from the seafloor beneath Hashima. At its peak in 1959 the 15 acre island was home to more than 5000 workers and their families, the highest population density recorded on Earth. In 1974 as Japan began favouring petrloium over coal Mitsubishi closed the mine and relocated the entire population to the mainland. 35 years later, nothing remains but decayed buildings and ghostly memories. These rooms once echoed with the laughter of children playing, now all that remains is the corroded remains of their toys. Overgrown and forgotton the school playground in now rusting scrap metal. Hashima is a laboratory for showing what happens to reinforced concrete in a savage environment. Every year the typhoon season delivers rains and winds up to 100mph, wlilst huge ocean waves smash into buildings. Scienctific studies of concrete core samples reveal that the buildings most exposed to the ocean had a salt content 15 times greater than the others. The concrete buildings themselves gave the island a warlike profile and even a new nickname “Battleship Island”. The wooden fasades of balconies were quickly destroyed, the many passageways and stairs that connected the buildings are now falling apart.”

You can watch this here – “Life After People: The Bodies Left Behind”. The segment starts at roughly 19 minutes and 37 seconds.

‘Hashima’: A Documentary by Thomas Nordanstad and CM von Hausswolff

This week I’m looking at documentaries about Gunkanjima and the first official one I got my hands on was by Thomas Nordanstad and CM von Hausswolff in 2002.

The official resume of the documentary is the following: “In the crazy ruins of a 20th century civilisation, walks one of the men who grew up, and was forced to leave in 1970. He tells his story among the almost untouched buildings, where remnants of daily life sits as symbols for a sociey much like our own. The man wants to make it into a museum, but painfully realizes that decay cannot be frozen, and even less restored…”

Nordanstad explains the history of the island as such: “The deserted island of Gunkanjima, as it is most often called, was a coal mining colony based on an island roughly the size of a football field. This was the most densely populated place on earth before Mitsubishi, the company who owned the island, closed the operation in 1974. Upon closing they offered the population to apply for jobs on the mainland, leading to a mass-exodus within only a few days of closing its mines. Thus, the island was left as if a neutron bomb had gone through it, with people´s breakfasts remaining on the tables, bicycles leaning on the walls, and beds still unmade. It is a harrowing place.”

You can watch the documentary here: “Hashima: Part 1 and 2”

Ten years ago Nordanstad and CM von Hausswolff became interested in Hashima’s history, and wanted to make a documentary about the island. The filmmakers went to Japan, but found that the Japanese weren’t interested in talking about it.

“We met a lot of embarrassment. We met a lot of hushed faces, a lot of people who would turn away as soon as we started speaking about the island, almost like it was a leper colony or something.”

Norandstad and Hausswolff eventually found someone to take them out to the island. The short film they made follows Doutoku Sakamato, whose family moved to Hashima when he was four. In one scene, Sakamoto returns to the apartment where he lived with his family 30 years ago.

“My mother’s decorations are still up here,” Sakamoto says. A few seconds later, he finds the marks on the walls that recorded his sister’s height through the years.

“They left coffee cups on the tables, and bicycles leaning against the walls. And I think very few people had been back out there when we went there. It was practically untouched.”

The film follows Sakamoto as he finds a schoolhouse with the teachers’ names still written on the blackboard. Sakamoto reflects on the people who once lived there and risked their lives in the mines below.

“It’s like the souls of the dead linger on down here,” Sakamoto says. “So many people who died, so unnecessarily… but these are things I probably shouldn’t talk about.”

The occasion marked the first time that Dotokou had been on the island as an adult, and his experience is nothing short of harrowing. Throughout his visit, the former Hashima resident excavated memories from his childhood, gazing at the decorations his mother hung on their apartment walls, and paying homage to a deceased friend with whom he grew up.

(To be continued: with an interview from Thomas Nordanstad!)