Bruce Gilden’s best shot

Leo Benedictus – The Guardian

Copyright The Guardian
In 1998, I met an ex-professional boxer and martial-arts expert in Japan, and we became friendly. He introduced me to these two yakuza, and we went for dinner in a small tempura place in the Ginza district of Tokyo.
My father was a racketeer type, so they got along with me and I got along with them.
I know their background of respect, and generally they’re polite. Some of the low-level yakuza that I’ve seen in an area of Tokyo called San’ya are really nasty and vicious, though – not nice people, and quite dangerous.
The guy who is having his cigarette lit is about 5ft 6in tall, and just as wide. When I first saw him, he was wearing a bright yellow suit. The other guy invited me to his house and told me all about his wife, who was a model and had just come back from Paris. He also told me that he can never get into the US because he’s got tattoos all over, and they don’t want yakuza in the country.
I don’t know exactly what these two guys do. I think they must keep order in the area. They work for some upper-echelon boss, and I’m sure they make good money. They have to cut their own finger joints off if they do something wrong, and my boxer friend was missing a piece of his finger. I didn’t look to see if these guys were, and you can’t quite tell in the picture.
After dinner, we went to a coffee shop, and I saw them lighting cigarettes. I took a picture with a Leica M6 and a hand-held flash while they were doing it, and then I asked them if they could repeat the gesture and I took three or four more. The big guy having his cigarette lit has the most fantastic expression. That’s what I love about it. The way he’s looking at us, like he’s looking right through us. You just know that these are tough guys.
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