A growing number of fishing boats have been washing up on Japanese shores. Sometimes, these vessels house rotting corpses. They are known in Japan as "ghost ships". Where have these ships travelled, and what factors led to their demise? The documentary Ghost Ships sets out to uncover the answers behind this ghoulish mystery.
In one recent year, Japan was host to over 80 shipwrecks of North Korean vessels. These fishing boats are marked by primitive markings in the Korean language, and they often contain the lifeless bodies of crew members. The removal of these damaged boats and dead seamen represent a significant financial burden, and tremendous trepidation and fear among Japanese residents. The lack of diplomatic relations between North Korea and Japan makes the identification of each victim difficult, and further clouds the mystery surrounding their demise.
Some of the boats arrive in a condition one would expect from a shipwreck; they are badly deteriorated by the ravages of the sea and wash ashore in tatters. Investigators could easily deduce that these were fishing boats that could not withstand harsh ocean conditions. But other ships have been found in immaculate condition and arrive without any evidence of human life.
Given the strictly regulated borders and imposing surveillance in North Korea, investigators are at an obvious disadvantage. In their quest to find answers, they often rely on the efforts of insiders within the country.
Conspiracies persist in the absence of hard facts. Could these capsized ships house spies? Could they be defectors who risked their lives to flee North Korea? Or are they part of a larger operation designed to abduct Japanese citizens?
The film eventually settles in to one prevailing theory involving the booming North Korean fishing industry, and the possibility that desperate fisherman could be treading into dangerous waters in search of lucrative squid populations.
Produced by CAN's investigative series Undercover Asia, Ghost Ships plays like a pulse-pounding mystery at sea. As the narrative unfurls, its implications expand to include the dynamics between two incompatible countries, a massive industry suffering from dwindling populations of fish, and the desperation of people fighting to survive by any means necessary.