Netflix’s Kate Did Do Right By Japanese Tattooing

Netflix’s Kate Did Do Right By Japanese Tattooing
A close-up of MIyavi's backpiece appears in Kate. (Image: Netflix/Kotaro Sato/YouTube)

For all the things that Kate gets wrong, it did get one important thing right: properly crediting tattoo artists.

Musician and actor Miyavi has a small, yet memorable role in the film as Jojima. He gives one of the best performances in the picture, and in the scene, his real life tattoos are featured prominently. Miyavi’s character is a gangster, and tattoos are supposed to underscore that connection. (Be aware that in Japan, as I mentioned in my and Hori Benny’s book Japanese Tattoos, all sorts of people get tattoos for various reasons. Just becomes somebody has tattoos doesn’t mean they’re a yakuza. They could be a chef, a healthcare worker or, in Miyavi’s real-life case, a musician.)

Miyavi's watches Kinji Fukasaku's take on Star Wars, Message from Space. (Screenshot: Netflix) Miyavi’s watches Kinji Fukasaku’s take on Star Wars, Message from Space. (Screenshot: Netflix)

Because his scene is so sort, the tattoos do take centre stage. When we are first introduced to the character, he sits on the sofa with his tattooed chest inked with the script futaiten (不退転) meaning “determination” clearly visible. Later in the scene, his back, which is covered with the Heart Sutra, fills the screen.

As Twitter user Mulboyne points out, Miyavi’s tattooer Kotaro Sato is credited along with the image of Godzilla and the ZZ Top album cover in the rights and clearances section of the end credits — as the artist should be. The other tattoo work in the film is credited as well.

“I never requested him to appear my credit each his film. But he always showing my name when he showed our art in his movies,” Sato wrote on Twitter. “I’m so glad to his respect. Thank you my bud.”

Writing out all the characters in the sutra on paper is not easy. Doing it on the human body takes incredible skill, and the artist responsible for it should get their dues. Miyavi’s backpiece is especially interesting and beautiful because in the middle of the sutra is the kanji character 李 (ri or sumono), which is a type of plum found in Japan and China, but the reason why Miyavi chose this character as it refers to his father’s last name. It has a deep, personal meaning. All his tattoos are an eclectic mix of Western and Eastern words and symbols with English phrases and bonji (sanskirt) that all come together as a cohesive, brilliantly executed whole that gives insight into his life and worldview in a way that only tattoos can. Miyavi, no doubt, is pleased with the work and wanted to give the proper credit.

The filmmakers behind Kate, for all they got wrong about Japan, made sure given proper credit was given. Smart, because not doing so could open a legal quagmire. As one copyright lawyer told Vice, the legal issues surrounding tattoo usage and licensing is complex. Last year, Kotaku reported that Randy Orton’s tattoo artist sued Two-Two for using her designs appearing in WWE games without permission. So yeah, even if Miyavi’s tattooer doesn’t seem like litigious, maybe the filmmakers were just covering their asses. But even if they were, good on them for crediting the artist.

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