tokyo vice

Tozawa (Ayumi Tanida) reunites with his mistress, Misaki (Ayumi Ito) in Tokyo Vice Season 2

James Lisle/Max
tokyo vice

Yakuza members lounge by the pool

Kumiko Tsuchiya/Max
Kumiko Tsuchiya/Max
Fill 1
Fill 1
March 08, 2024
Online Originals

Tokyo Vice Spares No Expense When it Comes to Tattoos

Meet the married couple making authentic Yakuza body art for Max's gritty crime drama.

Malcolm Venable

Bad news for everybody on Tokyo Vice: Tozowa is back.

Previously in hiding and presumed dead, the merciless big bad, played by Ayumi Tanida, reemerges in episode three of Max's neon noir drama to cause more chaos. Though Tozowa gives everyone in his orbit reason to tremble, he gives viewers reason to gaze upon him with awe: the intricate, vividly colored tattoos that adorn his body.

Based on American reporter Jake Adelstein's 2009 memoir, which detailed his experiences covering the notorious yakuza crime clans, Tokyo Vice is steeped in seductive realism. Part of said realism includes the tattoos, a yakuza tradition that goes back hundreds of years. According to Hiroshi and Minako Takebayashi, the husband-and-wife team behind the Vice characters' body art, Tozowa's ink takes four people about six hours to apply. "It usually lasts for two days if he doesn't sweat too much," Hiroshi says through a translator. "But he is a great actor. Once he gets the tattoos, he does not sit down because he's thinking about having to redo it. He is really taking care."

Of course, those aren't real tattoos on Tanida; they're body paint airbrushed on using stencils that took a day to design and almost three days to color. Known in Tokyo for their work — the Takebayashis have five shops across the metropolis — they sold Vice executive producer Michael Mann on a design based in Chinese legend. "People say that if a snake lives more than 100 years, it becomes a dragon," Hiroshi says. "It means it's changing, evolving to something better."

As eye-popping as Tozowa's artwork looks, it employs only three colors: green, red and black. The style of those black lines helps tell his backstory. "You know, color fades," Hiroshi says. "It's been quite a long time since he first got inked, so they have to adjust the thickness. There's a whole meaning behind that." Hiroshi declined to say what work like this might cost but he joked that it's "equivalent to, like, a tiny used car."

Naturally, the Takebayashis' work requires steady hands and great concentration; by all accounts, the body art is convincing. They've had former yakuza as customers, who have complimented them on how great the tattoos are.

Of course, the stakes on TV are much lower than in real life; if they make a mistake on Tokyo Vice, they just wipe it off and start over. With yakuza, on the other hand, "If you screw up," Hiroshi says, "you have to be ready to give your finger."

The new season of Tokyo Vice is now streaming on Max.

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