How were the Japanese Irezumi tattooed body parts created for Silent Witness?

Here's how the dismembered body parts in "To Brighton, To Brighton" were created behind the scenes

Silent Witness tattooed bodies

In the Silent Witness two-parter titled “To Brighton, To Brighton”, the team from the Lyell Centre take a field trip to Brighton (lucky) and a smelly landfill site (not so lucky). Mixed in with the rubbish at the dump is a collection of heavily-tattooed body parts, wrapped in newspaper and hidden in pizza bags.

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But how were these dismembered limbs created for TV – and how were they decorated with such intricate Japanese Irezumi tattoos?

Silent Witness XXII

While Silent Witness has a store of fake cadavers, this one actually had to be specially-made “weeks and months” in advance by prosthetics expert Pauline Fowler.

After all, the team couldn’t exactly get this “victim” to lie still on a gurney and pretend to be dead. Instead, they took a full body cast of the actor, made a replica, and chopped it up into pieces.

But first, the “body” had to be covered in Irezumi tattoos – a traditional Japanese body art. This was easier said than done.


What is irezumi tattooing?

A traditional Japanese form of tattooing, irezumi eschews electronic machinery – instead using wooden handles and metal needles attached via silk thread. Irezumi artists are hard to find with body art still seen as a taboo in some parts of Japanese society and those who carry out the style required to train for many years under a master to learn the unique styles of shading and methods for applying the tattoos by hand. 

Traditional irezumi tattoos can feature a variety of creatures, from lions and tigers to dragons, and fauna – including cherry blossom and lotus flowers – as well as a selection of warriors, geishas and mythological figures. 

Irezumi tattooing, Getty

Irezumi also takes a long time to complete and requires deep pockets; body suits can take years to create and cost many thousands of pounds.  


“We did initially talk about tattoo artists doing it,” producer Kiaran Murray-Smith tells RadioTimes.com. “But it would have taken too long, and knowing TV schedules you’ve got to do everything in half the time.”

Silent Witness foot

Instead, the designs are the work of make-up supervisor Gary Jordan, who inked them onto the prosthetic.

“We talked to the director, made sure that the designs were absolutely bang on, and then we actually left him to tattoo with transfers onto these prosthetic body parts,” Murray-Smith explains.

“Because they had to be dismembered, we then had to cut them up. But we had to do that at specific moments, and have specific areas of the body where they had to be cut up in order to make sense for the story.”

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But all that work pays off when the drama begins…


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