Guts is Masaki Yamamoto’s first book, and it’s a viceral, unnerving, gorgeous, and deeply personal portrait of his family, and their life together in a one-room apartment.

Guts was the Charcoal Book Club selection for July 2018, curated by Johnathan Levitt. I read some press about the book when it first came out, but didn’t buy it for whatever reason. I suspect I was in a book buying moratorium or something, so I’m glad to be a Charcoal member.

For 18 years, the Yamamoto family shared a one bedroom apartment in Kobe. The children started out small, and grew; the family possessions swelled; dishes piled up in the sink and cigarette butts overflowed the ashtray. And Masaki Yamamoto photographed them all,  in situ, between 2014 and 2017. The environment reminds me of some of my childhood friends’ houses, with their huge piles of toys, mostly broken, mounds of clothes here and there, morasses of all kinds of things, everywhere. It was so different from my house, but I still recognize the scenes and have some idea of the family dynamic and bond that comes from that closeness and that struggle.

But my childhood friends lived in 2 and 3 bedroom houses or doublewide trailers, not single room apartments. And most of my friends were one of two or three. The Yamamoto family is two parents, Misaki the photographer, two younger sisters, and a younger brother that all share the single room, plus an older brother that comes to visit occasionally. For privacy, they disappear into the bathroom, sink as deep as possible into the small shower/bathtub thing, or maybe go for a walk somewhere.

In short, the Yamamoto family is close, and clearly so, and the photographs reveal and celebrate that, despite the clutter, disorder, and filth, or maybe because of it.


Overall, I rate Guts 4 stars.

Guts is an incredible family portrait, and Masaki Yamamoto lets all the warts show, lets everyone appear with their personalities and quirks intact. There’s no hiding in a one bedroom apartment, not even from the (photobook) world.

The book is still available from shashasha and other online sellers, and it’s worth picking up for sure. If you need more convincing, it’s nice that, my modern met, and the New Yorker all have good, thorough reviews, so maybe check them out.

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