IN our heads the future is Japanese. It has been for some time.

Back in 2001 William Gibson, author of Neuromancer and one of the originators of cyberpunk, suggested that “Japan is the global imagination's default setting for the future.”

It had been when he wrote his debut novel Neuromancer back in the early 1980s and it was still the case. “The Japanese seem to the rest of us to live several measurable clicks down the timeline,” he added. “The Japanese are the ultimate Early Adaptors.”

Nearly 20 years on, little has changed. To look at the images to be found in Liam Wong’s new book TO:KY:OO is to see a vision of the future that is now hard-wired into our brains. It’s a vision that has been played out in movies and video games and comic books and anime time and again. As you turn the pages echoes of everything from Blade Runner to Akira and Ghost in the Shell (both the anime and the live-action Scarlett Johansson version).

Here is the future city, a neonoir landscape of rain and concrete and gleaming steel. The kind of place where women might wear traditional kimonos or the latest Issey Miyake, and walk through buildings designed by Kengo Kuma or Tadao Ando.

It’s also a real place of course. Where people eat and sleep and fall in love and have bad days at work and worry about paying the bills and whether all this rain will ruin their hairdo. That Tokyo can be seen in Wong’s photographs too. But it’s the seductive glitter that catches the eye. Wong’s Tokyo is a dreamscape. Maybe because that is what it is in Wong’s head.

Wong was born and raised in Tollcross in Edinburgh. His mum is a nurse and his dad teaches martial arts. He grew up a gamer, locked away in his bedroom. Back then Japan felt out of reach.

“Honestly,” he says, “it just felt like this far-away place I would never, ever see in person. I always looked up to Japanese games developers such as Shigeru Miyamoto (Nintendo) and Hideo Kojima (Kojima Productions), but it never crossed my mind to visit as I never had the money.”

A love of gaming turned into a career. He spent two years studying Computer Arts at Abertay University before becoming a video game art director at Ubisoft in Montreal in Canada. He then spent five years there working on games such as Far Cry.

“Video games were a form of escapism for me ever since I was a kid and once I had the opportunity to make one I could really see the value in developing them for others to enjoy in the same way that I did.”

It probably helped growing up close to Rockstar North, the studio behind Grand Theft Auto, he adds. “Scotland has found great success in video games and it is something we should be proud of.”

Wong watched movies too. And, yes, Blade Runner was a big influence, particularly the work of the late artist and designer Syd Mead, who shaped the look of that film’s cityscapes.

Read More: The Herald obituary of Syd Mead

All these influences would feed into his photography. But so did real cities too.

“Wandering London and Paris for the first time in my twenties I just couldn’t stop taking pictures on my phone and I became aware of how each city had a different vibe often dictated by its architecture,” he says.

But it was Tokyo that made him fall in love with street photography. “It made me realise that capturing moments is what I love most. Empty streets and isolated scenes contrasted with the hustle and bustle of megacities. So different from what I was used to growing up near the Meadows.”

Wong first visited Tokyo in 2014 on a business trip. He returned in December 2015, armed with a camera and began photographing the city. “I have spent many hours walking the streets, often in the rain,” he says.

“Arriving into Tokyo is overwhelming. Everything is just on a massive scale. It’s difficult to take in.”

But now it has become a second home for him. “Whenever I am there I feel at ease, whenever I am away, I feel homesick.”

Initially, he saw his photographs as a form of travel diary. But then he found a copy of Syd Mead’s art book Kronolog and it inspired him to be more ambitious, to begin to use photography as a means of self-expression.

In the pages of TO:KY:OO he suggests it has even taken him out of his comfort zone. How so? “I spent most of my time playing games shut away in my bedroom in Edinburgh. I would rarely leave my house.”

It was work and then photography that took him out into the world.

“Photography has helped me with that and connected with people and opportunities where I was so far out of my comfort zone that I was learning even faster.”

Wong puts a lot of post-production work into his images. “I liken my work to colour-grading in film. What we see in front of us in real life is ‘as is.’ But with colour we can convey mood and emotion. Directors such as Nicolas Winding Refn and WongKar-Wai are well known for this. Personally, I find editing quite therapeutic.”

Wong’s Tokyo exists in an eternal night. “The city feels different in the hours between midnight until before sunrise – when the trains stop and the city sleeps. More than that, whilst taking pictures of the metropolis I have noticed just how quickly it has changed. Many neon signs I photographed are no longer there.”

He has changed too. “I think above all I have learned to be more comfortable in my own skin and with my own ideas.”

So much so that he is the early stages of working on his first game as an independent. He thinks his photography will help inform the choices he makes in terms of lighting and design.

And who knows, maybe he will take it further too. Filmmaking might be the next logical step.

“Definitely – there are entirely new challenges with cinematography, storytelling and the moving picture. One of my biggest inspirations is fellow Scot Lynne Ramsay and her entire career. Just everything she has achieved and continues to create inspires me so much. I hope to make my first step into filmmaking this year. I have some ideas and I am working solidly on them to make it a reality.”

TO:KY:OO, by Liam Wong is published by Thames & Hudson, £35. For more information about Liam’s work visit