One of the world’s most powerful organized crime network, Japan’s Yakuza, has been portrayed by Hollywood in a number of ways – mainly as a cold, bloody, knee-cap breaking, emotionless mafia family. The Yakuza is actually a term that defines all of Japan’s organized crime groups under one umbrella with somewhere over 20 or so groups under the Yakuza with an estimated 50,000-100,000 members, according to Wiki.
Belgian photographer Anton Kusters was given access to one of the notorious Yakuza crime families in 2009 and spent the past few years photographing a crime family within the syndicate. The particular branch he spent time with “controls the streets of Kabukicho, in the heart of Tokyo, Japan.” It had taken ten months of negotiations before he was granted unprecedented access to the Yakuza through the godfather. Kusters compiled a brief documentary and a book, ODO YAKUZA TOKYO, sharing his time with Japan’s notorious underworld.
I literally expected to enter into a ‘Kill Bill’ type of world, where people are running around with swords, chopping each other’s head off; with blood flowing in the streets and things like that. Obviously because I didn’t know better. I just saw the movies like everyone else. And what I did see was a very different, very much more subtle world which relies on pressure, which relies on appearances, which relies more on control. Much more than actual violence.
In the short 6-minute documentary below, Kusters describes what life was like inside the Yakuza family, the hierarchical structure, their money operations, their tattoos, their traditions, and their practices. For example, when someone “is expected to apologize for something,” they are required to cut off a piece of their finger themselves and present it to the boss.