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How one guy turned Tokyo into a cyberpunk setting through photos

In his series ‘Neo Tokyo’, graphic design director Liam Wong depicts the bustling metropolis of Tokyo in glorious cyberpunk aesthetic.

Wong’s visual journey takes him through crowded boulevards and dimly lit alleyways, wandering places old and new. He then uses extreme contrasts in his photography to bring out the city’s character.

He even adds in some cyberpunk fashion by way of a hoodie and a Spider-Man mask, making it all the more like a science fiction setting.

We recently got a hold of Wong and talked to him more about his amazing travel photography.

What gave you the idea to depict Tokyo as a cyberpunk setting?

“One evening I was wandering around Tokyo and I stumbled upon a small vintage bookstore on the edge of Akasaka. On one of the shelves was a book almost as old as I am, yet in flawless condition. The book was Syd Mead’s Kronolog, worth thousands of dollars. The owner of the shop sold it to me for $50, she said it was a gift to me.

“Taking it back to the hotel, I found myself glued to the imagery, page after page, showcasing his use of colors, contrast and composition on Blade Runner, Aliens and Tron.

“The next night, it rained for the first time in the whole month that I had spent in Tokyo, and some of my most popular pictures are actually from the same night. I like to keep my older photographs on Instagram just so that people can see the clear change of direction.

“It was these two things which made me see Tokyo in a very different light and inspired me to shoot ‘Neo Tokyo’, which was under my nose all along.

A lot of our readers are curious as to how you achieved this neon effect. Mind sharing to us your secret?

“It’s simple. I try to shoot neutral, whilst featuring lights and darks. This gives me more control for when I play with the contrast and colors, for which I use Adobe Lightroom/Photoshop. With the exception of one photograph (you’ll have to guess which), I don’t actually manipulate them, I only tweak the color information that is there to find the contrast that I want.”

The imagery looks like something out of a noir film or a graphic novel. Was this intentional? If so, how did you pull off these kinds of compositions? What visual elements did you look out for?

“Another major inspiration of mine are the works of directors Wong Kar Wai and Wing Shya, who recently made contact with me after seeing my pictures. They are from another planet. In movies like 2046 and In The Mood For Love, every frame is a work of art.

“I am still learning photography, but with my background in graphic design, I am obsessed with color, composition, contrast and typography. I always look for these things.

“I have had my DSLR a few months now, so I am still learning photography but with street photography the excitement is never knowing what is coming but to be ready when it happens.”

We could tell you did a lot of wandering around the city. Which place left the biggest impression on you?

“I watched the movie Enter The Void by Gaspe Noe and it really stuck with me. I happened to be staying in the same district that it was shot in, Shinjuku.

“Within Shinjuku is Kabukichō, the red-light district of Tokyo. It is the location of one of my most popular photographs and the one which sells the most prints.

“During the day, there isn’t much to see, in fact it’s pretty boring and uneventful. But by night, it transforms into this dark underworld, known as the ‘Sleepless Town’ (眠らない街).”

Which cities are you planning to go to next? And are you planning to continue your cyberpunk series?

“New York, LA, and Hong Kong are next on my list. I am keen to take some portraits – if anyone wants their picture taken, get in touch. You can expect more of the same, I’m riding this night thing and don’t see it ever changing – the night is my friend. If you see a guy in your city wearing a mask, taking pictures in an alleyway in the rain, then it’s probably me.”

And before we go, how did Spider-Man get into all of this?

“Taking pictures in dark alleyways at night by yourself is not recommended. Although if it’s something you want to do, dressing head to toe in black, wearing a mask with your hood up is a great way to deter criminals.”

You can see more of Liam Wong’s photos over on Instagram.

Shibuya Nights / 渋谷 / 00:02:00 / Midnight Lights Look at the rain long enough, with no thoughts in your head, and you gradually feel your body falling loose, shaking free of the world of reality. Rain has the power to hypnotize. – Haruki Murakami, South of the Border, West of the Sun. fb.com/liamwon9 #tokyo #neotokyo #night #rain #cyberpunk #umbrella #street #people #instagram #japan #photography #rain #murakami #streetphotography #bladerunner #neon #neonlights #reflection

A photo posted by LIAM WONG ✖ リアム・ウォン (@liamwon9) on

Nakano Nights / 中野区 / Neon Broadway / 00:34:02 Featured on @Adobe again, exciting things to announce soon. Interviews and collaborations incoming. @lostateminor just posted an interview, check their site ❤️ Leave a comment, tag a friend, repost. Follow me on fb.com/liamwon9 #tokyo #bladerunner #neotokyo #cyberpunk #neon #street #streetphotography #instagram #instagramjapan #anime #photography #city #night #japan

A photo posted by LIAM WONG ✖ リアム・ウォン (@liamwon9) on

Shinjuku Nights / 新宿 / Sleepless Town / 23:33:46 Every day we brush past so many other people. People we may never meet, or people who may become close friends. – Chunking Express, Wong Kar Wai Leave a comment, tag a friend, repost. fb.com/liamwon9 society6.com/liamwon9 #cyberpunk #neotokyo #tokyo #japan #instagram #night #bladerunner #street #streetphotography #photography #neon #wongkarwai #whponthego #anime #otaku

A photo posted by LIAM WONG ✖ リアム・ウォン (@liamwon9) on

Akihabara Nights / 秋葉原 / Electric Town, considered by many to be the center of Japan’s otaku culture. Follow/message me on Facebook.com/liamwon9 / liamwon9.tumblr.com / society6.com/liamwon9 Tag your friends / repost / share / leave a comment 🙂 #cyberpunk #neotokyo #night #tokyo #bladerunner #signage #street #akihabara #anime #akb48 #idol #instagram #travel #streetphotography #sydmead #japan #otaku #scifi

A photo posted by LIAM WONG ✖ リアム・ウォン (@liamwon9) on

Shinjuku Nights / Surrounded by seductive signage leading to soaplands. Prints available at society6.com/liamwon9. Creating a minibook, let me know if you’re interested. Thanks everyone who has ordered photos 🙂 Like/follow/message me on Facebook.com/liamwon9 Tag your friends / repost / share / leave a comment 🙂 #cyberpunk #neotokyo #night #tokyo #typography #signage #street #shinjuku #instagram #eyeson #travel #streetphotography #streetphoto

A photo posted by LIAM WONG ✖ リアム・ウォン (@liamwon9) on

London Nights / ロンドン / 21:36 / Chinatown / “Backalleys are meant for middle-aged cooks having a smoke and garbage disposal. A girl and a photographer ending up there at this time of night is most likely a by-product of exploration. Throw a mysterious white van in the mix and you’ve got a regular Tuesday night in Chinatown.” – Marc-Olivier Bouchard, Narrative Director, Ubisoft Montreal. FB: www.liamwong.com 谢谢 #cyberpunk #neotokyo #london #night #rain

A photo posted by LIAM WONG ✖ リアム・ウォン (@liamwon9) on