A leading tattoo artist in Japan with a career spanning more than 20 years who is invited to conventions across the country. At first he worked primarily on western-style tattoos that had begun to take root in Japan, but as his career progressed he developed an interest in Japanese-style tattoos and began training in earnest. Afterwards he moved to America and is now based in San Jose, where he devotes his time to teaching the Japanese style of tattooing.
I pay particular attention to the design of the tattoos because they're being seen in a game
―How did you end up becoming involved with Ryu ga Gotoku?
Mr. Horitomo (below, Horitomo): The first discussions took place when I was working at a studio in Yokohama. The producer at the time, Masayoshi Kikuchi, came along with Masayoshi Yokoyama and said that they wanted me to draw tattoos to put on the characters' backs. It came out of nowhere, so I recall being surprised.
―The request itself was sudden, of course, but aren't these kinds of requests common in the world of tattoo artists?
Horitomo: Surprisingly, that's not the case. That said, for a long time now I've been doing jobs like drawing tattoos for actors to use in films. All that's different is that it's for a game this time. I've played games myself, as well. I was surprised to be offered the job in the first place, but didn't feel anything strange about what it entailed. I never imagined how well-known the game would become, though (laughs). I'm the envy of all my tattoo artist friends these days.
―I see. However, they have left the boundaries of the games and are now turned into all kinds of merchandise, so I don't think it would be an overstatement to say that you're the most visible tattoo artist in Japan?
Horitomo: That may be true. I never thought that I would see my own tattoos at Don Quijote, though (laughs).
―For sure (laughs). By the way, this might be a silly question, but what kind of differences are there between drawing a tattoo to be used in a game and drawing a tattoo to actually be tattooed onto someone in real life?
Horitomo: The process up until making the rough sketch is basically the same for both real life and games. A client would give me their order, but for Ryu ga Gotoku I'm given a general story summary and a description of the characters' backgrounds instead. Sometimes at that stage the motif has been decided upon, and sometimes we discuss what design would be a good fit. There's no big difference between this and my discussions with people I'm actually going to be tattooing. If there's a difference, it would be in the designs.
―What do you mean by that?
Horitomo: Most of the characters who appear in Ryu ga Gotoku are quite macho, and have different body types from the average Japanese person. In accordance with this, I make the designs a bit larger. Also, when I first started the job I asked the developers to reduce the unevenness of the characters' backs a bit.
―Is that an issue to do with how the tattoos look?
Horitomo: That's right. If their muscles are uneven, then no matter what you do the image is warped and doesn't look clean and nice. Tattoos look best on straight, non-curvy body types.
―Are there any other points that you take into consideration specifically for Ryu ga Gotoku?
Horitomo: One thing is that I have to draw the pictures using techniques as close to tattoos as possible. Normally the colouring would be done during the tattooing, but with Ryu ga Gotoku it's done on the drawing. If, for example, you could see the pen strokes it would stop looking like a tattoo, so I take care with that. There are also scenes where the tattoos have to be shown when the character is moving, so I try to draw them so that they leave a strong impression, even if you only see a flash of them.
―What are your own preferences for tattoos? Do you like simple ones that place importance on the impact, or something more minute?
Horitomo: When I was younger I liked detailed tattoos as well, but these days if I had to choose I'd say that I prefer simple designs. This is just my own opinion, but I think that tattoos are something to be seen by others. I think that simple designs will convey themselves to anyone.
―I see. My next question is: out of the entire Ryu ga Gotoku series, whose tattoo did you have the most trouble with?
Horitomo: That would be Daisaku Minami's. It incorporates a lot of different styles of tattoo, drawing methods and patterns, so I remember struggling with how to maintain the balance between eastern and western styles. That may also have been influenced by the long time I had spent away from tattoos with western designs. I did western-style tattoos as well in my youth, so I do have experience with them, but by the time I came to work on Minami's tattoo I was mainly concentrating on Japanese-style ones. I polished it up while asking my colleagues about what kind of things were trendy in western tattoos at the time.
―Even to the untrained eye, Minami looks like he was a pain.
Horitomo: Right? (laughs). In terms of design I struggled with Minami, but struggles with the work itself get worse with each game. The hardware's rendering capabilities increase year by year, and the TVs that display the images are getting bigger themselves. In some cases, the on-screen image is larger than the original. This means that my work, from drawing to colouring, becomes more and more detailed.
―I see. So advances in technology affect you, too.
Horitomo: To an extent. My work is basically analogue. But working on Ryu ga Gotoku has been very enjoyable and stimulating. Despite the exchanges I have with my clients, the work up until completion is generally quite lonely. But on Ryu ga Gotoku, I'm involved with a lot of people during the process. It's been quite a refreshing experience. They also have quite a lot of respect for my opinion, so it was also easy to do.
―Your clients will have their own wishes for their real tattoos, after all.
Horitomo: That's right. Sometimes they do discuss it with me, of course, but a tattoo artist's job is generally to fulfil their client's wishes.
―Have you had any clients who have requested you after learning of your work on Ryu ga Gotoku?
Horitomo: Yes. I'm currently based in America, but there have been some foreigners like this. Now that I think about it, I moved in 2007, but at the time I thought that since I was in America, I mightn't be asked to work on Ryu ga Gotoku anymore. But I ended up being given the job again, and was really happy about it.
―I think that's a result of your skill and taste. Finally, could you please give us a comment looking back on the past 10 years?
Horitomo: I'm so glad that I got to work on Ryu ga Gotoku. Also, it makes me really happy that, along with the game's climbing popularity, there are even people with no interest in tattoos who know who I am when I tell them that I designed the tattoos for Ryu ga Gotoku. The world of tattoos is still swept under the rug in Japan, but I think that it would be beneficial if people were to take interest in them due to my work on Ryu ga Gotoku.