anton kusters – odo yakuza tokyo LIMITED EDITION (SOLD OUT)

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Anton Kusters

Odo Yakuza Tokyo

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Below is an excerpt of my conversation with Anton Kusters, talking about the birth of his first book. We are sitting on my front porch during a beautiful sunrise. Somehow appropriate. Even more appropriate is that today is Anton’s birthday.



DAH: Well, the bottom line is, Anton, you have your first book… Tell me, a first book is comparable to what?

AK: It’s… It feels like I actually did something for the first time. I mean, it’s not that the book was more work than the project itself, but… it does feel like I took a step in some way, like a kind of achievement in some way, for myself, personally. It really feels like a personal victory. And whatever that victory, that achievement, will mean to the outside world, I would almost say, that is out of my hands. I mean that in the best possible way. I love seeing cutting my book “loose” into the world, let it go, beyond my control.

DAH: So… Validation?

AK: Validation… a little bit a sense of pride deep down inside… that I could actually pull something off, because for some reason, it always feels like nothing is really complete, or at least this project could not be complete, without the validation of a physical object, like a book, an exhibition… like Massimo Vitali said at LOOK3 a couple of days ago… “I’m looking at the picture as that unique physical object, impossible to see separate from the plexi it is printed on”

DAH: …Yes… I don’t know if everybody feels that way…. I certainly feel that way also, if there’s no physical object then there is nothing, actually.

AK: Yes

DAH: There’s instruction, there’s information, it’s up there on the screen, but it’s meaningless without the physical object…

AK: … things remain fleeting until something physical is made.

DAH: and even though you reach fewer people, it doesn’t matter –

AK: Yes… You reach so many less people… I mean, the internet is like multiple, you reach multiples of the audience of the book… but… I think the feeling it will never change as to what it must have been before the internet… it must be still exactly the same, that kind of feeling… the internet adds to it, but the feeling of selling the book, making the book, is… is something… is a different category. at least it feels like that. And seeing friends and strangers, complete strangers, hold that book, and look at them while they are looking at the book. that’s the thing that completes the circle for me.

DAH: You don’t see that on the internet, you don’t see that with an international magazine either… occasionally you do by accident, at the airport you see somebody looking through one of your articles, and of course they flip right through it.


Let me go back on a couple of basic things: so… it’s fun to have a book out there.

AK: Absolutely.

DAH: I remember, Sam Abell said one time, to me, “David, when you do your first book, life will change”. And he was right about that: after your first book, life does change.

AK: Yea… I feel it does… I mean, I don’t know, I obviously it’s too soon to say because it’s only hitting the stands right now, I mean “the stand”, singular, being here on burn, so I don’t know what the actual impact will –

DAH: – Oh I predict that, I think this book will, I think this, your limited edition of 500 copies, of a very well priced book and a very high quality book, and a very heart felt… done book, I think that this book will sell out in less than two weeks. That’s my prediction. I think it’ll be gone in ten days. Something like that, I really think that.

I think that people will, people will feel that this is a one of a kind object, as you described, there are people who get more out of photography than seeing, to flick a page, or even on burn or anything, anything that’s online, and will go for that physical object. and they’ll see it the same way that they saw Alec Soth’s “Sleeping by the Mississippi”, and they’ll want to be one of the ones to have an original, first edition, from the first five hundred.

AK: Yea… and it’s, it’s almost like I wish there was this tactile… extension to the internet where you could make people reach into the screen and pick up the book to be able to feel it, that they can feel what the object is like, because I feel that that’s such an important aspect.

DAH: Your book is a physical object, it’s a beautifully done physical object, and the printing and the binding and the making of this book are clear, and speak to the subject… So tell us a little bit about… the making of the book in relationship to the subject of the book.

AK: That’s of course pretty crucial, as I regard the book as an integral object of what the project is about… I mean, I’ve been fortunate enough to have worked at a printer a long time ago, and that opened a whole new world to me back then. But it wasn’t until last year that I realized was using all that knowledge for this book.

I completely did the process all by myself, I designed the book, I found the right papers and the right printer, prepared for print, went to press, and oversaw the binding…. I learned obviously a lot during the process, but… it’s such a fun thing to do, it’s a lot of work, you gotta follow up everything personally, but you’re basically taking up the role of, of…producer

DAH: OK, so we’ve covered the thrill of having the book… and the physical production of the book. But I think the word of mouth on the physicality of this book will quickly get out there, and I think that, you and I are of like mind of what Burn does, and our basic philosophy is a quality one.

AK: Yes… whatever the case, quality comes first, and that’s why I was so happy that you were willing to endorse and write the foreword for the book, because I knew that you would never, ever, even as a close personal friend, you would not do that if you wouldn’t be very sure about the quality of the work.

DAH: No, I would not do that. Of course I’m expecting a hell of a kickback from this book, I’m expecting a lot of money into my my bank account [laughing]

The thing is… photographers do want to do books, and I think everybody knows, that books are not how we make money, but you will, even if this book is a raging success, you won’t be paying your home bills with this book, no matter how successful this is….

AK: I might break even on some aspect of the printing, and I’d be really really happy if that happened, but I’m pretty sure I can forget about trying to pay for all the trips I took.

DAH: Now tell me a little bit about how the subject of your book.  Any way you look at it, is going to be controversial, inside Japan, outside Japan, all around the town. I mean, you’ve turned into a physical object of photography, a crime organization. So. justify that for me please.

AK: Justify…

DAH: I mean, don’t justify it for me, because I understand it…. Justify it to those who might be reading this.

AK: I think it goes back to the fact that I’ve always taken aback by… prejudice. I’ve always been taken, really taken aback by blanket statements, I’m taken aback by the judging of people and things… Personally, I’ve always asked questions instead, being inquisitive, at least in my mind ask questions, trying to understand things…

I do not want to be a judge in my photography. I want to be a witness in my photography. A faithful witness of my own vision. A vision which I know is shaped and skewed by my upbringing and my life’s experiences.

I guess that’s why the Yakuza project actually quickly turned into something different than I expected, I started to feel that it’s a way of life more than anything else… and that’s where I latched on. The bad part or the good part for that matter, very quickly became irrelevant after that. The subtle shades of grey are the key.

Who am I… can it ever be my right to say about someone that he is “bad”? about anyone?

DAH: So your essay, your book is, how would you describe what it is in relationship to a crime organization? is it a revelation, is it an exposé, is it a behind-the-scenes? what is it exactly? what are you telling us with this book?

AK: Well… that’s a good question. I might have to find that one out as we go along, because I actually just want to show, I think, basically what I just said, I started feeling that that Yakuza is many shades of grey, and not simple black vs white.

DAH: so is that your, your…mission?.

AK: It’s the subtlety of the story that hit me, I think it would be kind of easy, or cheap, in a way, to show the Yakuza and what they do, instead of what they are, because I would, in a way, stereotype them, and that is something I don’t want to ever do to anybody.

DAH: yeah… do you want me to get you another coffee?

AK: yes, sure.

DAH: you drinking it black?

AK: as always

DAH: OK. Here, think about this question: what do you think the Yakuza are going to think about this book? What are they thinking that this book is? You’re thinking that it’s a revelation of some sort, what do they think it is? Everyone wants their thing out of it.

[DAH gets a cup of coffee]

AK: Interesting question… The thing is, I think, and I have the feeling, that they want to have, kind of a chronicle of their family, of sorts, a chronicle of what they are about.

DAH: When I look at the pictures, I  don’t see them doing anything bad… If I weren’t reading about the Yakuza, or know about the Yakuza, your pictures here do require text, and context, which, I think, only adds to the texture and to the feel of these photographs. Is that correct? They seem here to appear as traditional Japanese businessmen.

AK: Yeah… Though you can’t really misinterpret the tattoos, covert training camps, prostitutes and severed fingers.

DAH: So aside from the fact that people who buy this book are going to receive a physical object, and a lot of visual stimulation, on a topic that you have decided was worth photographing, what do you, what do you think that people will get out of this book, or should get out of this book, besides the fine object aspect of the book? Because it is a documentary. it is not a conceptual thing.

AK: Actually, I would like to describe this as a conceptual documentary, because I have no intent, to tell the truth, but rather I have the intent of telling the Yakuza story as I personally experienced it, me, Anton Kusters, the person and character that I am, with all my flaws and shortcomings, and I will most probably see things in a completely different way and therefore be sensitive to, and concentrate on, the things that strike me or touch me… the shades of grey i see, the realization that being Yakuza is a way of life more than anything else. I hope others will see that too.

DAH: So in that sense you are being very documentary, mission oriented documentary. In that sense.

AK: Yeah. in that sense. I could even consider that a mission in life in general.

DAH: I know exactly where you stand on this. Personally, for me, I find any topic interesting, if a someone, if a photographer, if a writer, or a film maker is telling me that they are interested in whatever the topic is, whether it’s the sinking of the Titanic, as a piece of history, or Restrepo, a war story by Tim Hetherington, or your story on the Yakuza. I don’t really care, I mean, somebody who is a storyteller, or a visual artist, if they have decided that they’re going to do this particular thing…. i’m not ranking subject matter by some subject matter being more important, or right, than others. It becomes important by the fact that this particular storyteller is going to tell it.

AK: Yep. About Tim…. I met Tim only a couple of times, and the last time we talked at length about the Yakuza project, which was then only halfway, and he was the one who also told me, like you had always told me too, David, because there was one particular picture, when he saw that one he stopped in his tracks and said “this is the one” and that was the picture of the empty table with empty glasses and cups and a burning cigarette and the two empty chairs, the full ash tray, and he said “right there, that’s the kind of image, that’s the image you have to have in there, because there you are saying that you are personally telling that story that is your story, and that you are not just ‘covering’ the Yakuza”… and I hope I have taken that to heart.

DAH: well I think there is no doubt that you’ve done that. The only thing left I wanted to ask you is… you will now probably spend the next year working on the film, on the same topic.

AK: I hope that works out, yes. There is… we’re starting, my brother Malik and I are starting to, because obviously film is way more complex than photography from a production point of view, my brother will be doing sound, I will be doing video, the moving image…. I hope that works out… we’ve got a good story. And the book, offering the book to the Yakuza bosses now, tomorrow I’ll be flying over to Tokyo to, you know, present the book to them, give copies as a gift, which will hopefully open gates.

But again, this will be way more complex, also financially… so, I will be using the potential success of the book as a gauge for myself, if it’s viable to continue on that path or not. But I obviously feel I should do it no matter what. so I hope it will work out.

On the other hand, photographing daisies is great fun too.


(the limited edition sold out on July 21, 2011)


Anton was born in Belgium. He grew up in Australia, Saudi Arabia and Belgium, and has been visiting Japan ever since his brother moved there a decade ago. The long term YAKUZA project started out three years ago, and the first major step now has been taken with the book “ODO YAKUZA TOKYO”.
Anton feels that life should be about going deep down rabbit holes as much as you possibly can.


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232 Responses to “anton kusters – odo yakuza tokyo LIMITED EDITION (SOLD OUT)”


    it is a very different beast indeed… let me know what you think… and mucho thanks for buying….

    cheers, a

  • ANTON:

    any ETA on when it will arrive in Toronto?…waiting, hungrily? :)

  • BOB,

    It’s probably being held up by the dumbasses at Canada Customs as they
    try to figure out what extortionist-inspired duties they can apply to something
    as subversive as a BOOK.

    Rest assured,though. We can drink regardless :)


  • Mark! :)))))))))

    god damn, ain’t that the truth here in Canada!!!…i can’t believe how slow delivery/customs is here…when folk send me stuff from the states it takes freakin’ forEVER to get here….drinking tonight! ;))))))

    and i bought the book within 1 hr of it being announced here…so waiting waiting…but, it’s cool…worth the wait! :)))


  • Got mine last night!
    So worth the wait….both the book now and the entire project as a whole.

    Will you still do 893 #2 Anton? or is that out the door now that the book is completed?

  • a civilian-mass audience


    Speechless…BOOK is where supposed to be…

    YAKUZA came home…we are drinking ouzo…
    because of EVA…

    VIVA to all of you…thanks mate…

  • ANTON.. cheers :)

    CIVI.. yep, book is where it belongs, with CIVILIAN MASS AUDIENCE!!!
    (checked mail, expect reply by mid August, til then crazy schedule, but will answer, promise!)

  • Hey Carlo,

    Yes, 893 #2 will come… 893 Magazine, which will remain print-on-demand, is becoming a “vehicle” for me to talk about how the Yakuza project might continue, what might/will come next (documentary film?) and how I am trying to make it all work….

    Cheers, a

  • BOB,

    you should have it this week, or latest beginning next week… they have all been sent out on monday, so it should be coming close to you as we speak… can you feel it already?

    hugs xxx a

  • Anton,

    “The way of the cherry blossom” continues!

  • Got mine yesterday. Fucking fantastic…. moody as all get out.

    Congrats Anton!

  • Thanks Charles!! Glad you like it amigo…

    cheers, a

  • ANTON :))))

    yes, i can feel it…i can’t wait…the rumours about its beauty have me sooooo goddamned excited! :))))))….


    big hugs :)))


  • ALL…

    1 month and 4 days later: ODO YAKUZA TOKYO is now sold out…

    Thanks ALL OF YOU so much for all your support… and DAVID for believing in me in the first place… I feel so happy, really




    seems like it sold out even faster then BURN01!…that’s some brilliant ninja sales :)))

    still waiting for my copy, but totally patient :)))…

    big hugs

  • BRAVO, my dear brother!!!!!!! You deserve all good things with this remarkable book, and soon-to-be-started documentary film. I have never before seen anyone prepare for a project so thoroughly and then execute it as well as you with Odo Yakuza Tokyo. Trust me, this is just the start of where this work will take you…


  • A
    and NOW,
    there shall be

  • ANTON,

    actually I have to thank you! It IS a great book with great pictures, which were not seen, if you weren’t the person having taken them. Your pictures open a door into a culture, which were not known to us at all.
    I am glad to be among the lucky ones to buy one book, or two :)
    P.S. keep up your great work.

  • Amazing! really amazing! congratulations Anton!!!!!

  • Out out? I ran into the LOOK HQ finally on the last day as they were closing to get a copy, stopped in the restroom, and realized after I came out they were gone – you must have just carried them away :(

    A documentary is in the works? I’m out of the loop!

  • Sold out!?
    At last!
    why did it take you so long???!!!

  • He is just been humble….it probably sold out the same day.

  • Congratulations Anton and to everyone who bought a copy; enjoy your unique, one-of-a-kind, limited edition, masterpiece.


  • Bob, I’ve sent items to and received them from Canada and I know what you mean …… slow!
    Anton’s book is worth the wait: wrapped like a present (which it is) and the content: you will view it for years to come – you’ll spend so much time looking you won’t have time to run!


  • Hopefully Canada customs will let the books free to be delivered soonest…
    U see Canadian post office is kinda greedy..they overcharge, plus they refuse to give confirmation delivery numbers unless you pay up to $50 per book extra(just for confirmation only), plus they like charging the customer an extra acceptance fee etc…
    Either way, hopefully Canadians will receive their books by end of this week or beginning of new week coming!
    Inside the US the same item/shipment takes 3 days (media mail) but for canada which is literally next door , up to two weeks…$5 for confirmation number for the US, $75 for Canada…
    So Canadians be PATIENT..your books are on the way!

  • Congrats on selling out the book. Now that the print version is gone, any thoughts on making a digital version?

  • Furu ike ya
    kawazu tobikomu
    mizu no oto

    (The ancient pond
    A frog leaps in
    The sound of the water.)

    What began as a weekend opening with the knowledge that a friend died, closes its small, wind-driven curtains in the bath of cool, green light…..

    Odo Yakuza Tokyo arrived on Thursday, and I let it sit on my kitchen table for nearly 4 days, no so much from the disirelessness to open but from a more pressing need to ‘discover’ it when I had the calm and focus. After 3 days of writing and working on pictures and watching 5 films, it was time to open it…..

    As I’d written originally here, the impression the BURN slideshow hints at sadness, at melancholy, at death. As I discussed with Eva, I was struck by the melancholy ache of the pictures and the story, the attempt to show these men, and women, not as urns of imposing power but as men trying to reconcile themselves with the passing of their lives, an natural consequence of living, of gathering among groups with a history, of counting the rings the pebble tossed upon the ocean as it recedes….

    Finally looking through the book, I am left filled by the promise i’d imagine. This is a book about death, this is a book testifying to both the ephemeral waving of things, but there is great strength in this book. The strength comes not from the ‘power’ of the Yakutza, but from strength of the photographer. For this is actually not a book at all about the Yakutza, but in fact is a very different and more beautiful and complex book. this is the story of a photographer inhabiting a world that teems with counter-lives, with strange disorienting circumstances, with the madness and light and chaotic fog of Tokyo and it’s luminous gaze, but also with the world in which he finds himself. It is a book of journey, a book of only the kind I find the most attachment: a personal vision not of a people but a vision, a evocation of the effect that place and those people had upon the author. The only truth, for me, that is recountable: the personalized story of self with the cadence of the world.

    It is a magnificent book.

    As a photographer, what I loved most is to see the real maturity of Anton’s vision. To marry the looseness of his early Japan work (inspired by a number of photographers who loose personal vision as a way to harness the alphabet’d world) to his more controlled story telling (mexico, sugar, etc) to coalesce in a combination that uses both shadow and opaque light and focus to gather into a precise emotional sense of a person negotiating his own drifting toward something very clear:

    the space between the calligraphic brushstrokes….

    a more beautiful, green poem I can’t imagine…

    so happy to have this and to see it….

    big congratulations Anton….

    very proud of you….

    a lament for those who didn’t have the opportunity to get a copy….


  • Bob!

    thanks for the words my friend… they mean a lot to me…. and of course I am glad you like the book….



  • Burn publishing via Apple’s iBookstore in eBook format would be well cool. Something to consider? Has this already be explored and discussed and I missed it?

    iBurn, perhaps?

  • I can imaging what Anton’s book would look like on an iPad or iPhone/iTouch. It would be utterly stunning.

  • Wonderful work, Anton, and the bbc sequence looks great. I missed the first edition travelling, and I thought I saw something a couple of days ago about a second, but now it’s gone. Did I dream it?

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