14.11.2011 in16:51 in Documentary -->
Beginning in 2008, belgian photographer Anton Kusters began his attempt to infiltrate and document the mysterious Japanese mafia.
The result of what must have been a gigantic effort on the part of Anton Kusters, is a project entitled 893-Yakuza along with a book released this summer, “Odo Yakuza Tokyo”, with a print run of just 500. His website is currently full of clamourings for a second edition and as of this morning, the BBC website ran a selection of images from the publication so I think we can all optimistically expect at least one additional print run. There is also a scheduled exhibition and documentary film, as Kusters step-by-step transforms himself into the go-to person if you want to hear, listen or look at the yakuza.
The yakuza are frequently fictionalised in films and novels, but like much of Japanese culture, they remain largely hidden and private, outsiders are very rarely admitted entrance to their activities, for rather obvious reasons. Their tattoos (which remain hidden usually) mark them out; in Japan a tattoo is synonymous with illegal activity and possessing one will ban you from entrance to public swimming pools, bath houses (onsen) and even the gym. It is therefore unsuprising and yet still loaded that these tattoos are presented in many of Kuster’s images.
There have previously been others who tried to introduce those outside of Japan to the ways of the yakuza, Jake Adelstein the obnoxious author springs to mind.However, aside from understanding that they hang out in Kabukicho, run the mizu shobai (water trade aka sex industry) and pachinko parlours, wear black suits have tattoos and are fucking scary, we don’t really have any clear ideas of what and whothe yakuza really are. The image of prospective yakuza meditating on a beach as part of preparation that looks somewhat like a spiritual yakuza holiday camp, begins to open up a dark mystery to the world. Kusters images are frank and astoundingly intimate, the image of a naked, overweight yakuza displaying his traditional tattooed back and buttocks to Kusters’ lens is extraordinary. He has gone where only a handful of other foreigners have been and is helpfully inviting us to peruse his experience.