Matthew Counts

Anton Kusters and the Yakuza

2009: After more than 10 months of preparations, Anton Kusters starts a project and ¬†embarks on a journey that will result in a visually stunning and strikingly candid look into the inner workings of the Japan’s mafia, the Yakuza. He is the first outside photographer allowed to document the Yakuza and over¬†course of two years he followed its members through the streets of Tokyo shedding light on their way of life.

I came across Anton’s work recently though twitter and instantly found it captivating. Anton was kind enough to do a short interview with me about his methods and experiences during the project which I hope will be be an inspiration and provide a glimpse into the method of his madness!


MC: How did you come up with the idea for the 893-Yakuza project?
AK: The simple curiosity of my brother Malik and I, when a guy wearing a tailored suit walks into a bar in Tokyo where we were having a drink. The bartender, a friend of ours, told us that this was a member of the Yakuza. We were both looking a for a project to do together (I am a photographer, he is a marketing expert), and then just knew that this had to be it. We had to at least try.

MC: Why choose the Yakuza as your subject matter?
AK: See question 1… plus the simple fact the my brother and I were curious as to how the Yakuza were really like… were they like in the movies? or different?

MC: Your photographs have an artistic and unique aesthetic to them, as well as AK: being shockingly revealing. Was your aim photojournalistic, purely artistic or some blend of both?
AK: Definitely a blend of both. If i were to characterize this project, I would say “conceptual documentary”. definitely NOT journalistic in intent, because I never did any research about the Yakuza, I went in with an open mind and told what I saw and felt in a personal way… It witnesses my view of what I felt and saw, but it does not claim to be the truth of any kind.

MC: Dealing with such a touchy subject, what did you find most difficult about the project?
AK: The most difficult was the subtle social interaction that I had to learn. It took my contact person 6 months to fully teach me how “to behave” in any situation. Knowing that their code of honor is very strict, I knew that I could not afford any mistakes there. The actual photographing went pretty well in comparison to that.

MC: Why did you decide to use a film camera rather than digital?
AK: I shot everything on digital, in the early stages a Nikon D3, then later swapped for a Leica M9. I also used little compacts, and even my iPhone.

MC: How has the success of the first edition and the public reception overall influenced you? Was it unexpected?
AK: To me personally the success was definitely unexpected, yet I am very happy that it happened… it gave me much more confidence in my beliefs, and allowed me to do a second edition of the book, and in this way I just might sell enough copies to be able to start my next project or to continue this project.

MC: What do you plan on doing next?
AK: For the Yakuza: my brother and I are now negotiating for the second phase, where we will try to make a documentary film about that family. In the meantime, I am also planning an exhibition on the same subject, and I am slowly starting some other projects as well, which are all long term projects, and in different stages of their respective research phase… Exciting…. and of course I will take everyone along on my journeys on my website….

Here’s some more of his work but to see more and to read his blog I highly recommend checking out Anton’s site at