What makes a man want to undergo the painful process of having areas of his skin punctured by a sharp object and paint applied therein? How long does this tradition go back in man's history? To what purpose? What is a tattoo meant to represent on a social/communal level? These are some of the questions I should expect a documentary such as this to cover and while Ancient Ink does not probe the depths of its material it's still a sufficient introduction to the subject.
Following our host as he learns about the various techniques and traditions of the tattoo and testing them on his own body we go all the way from the Maori of New Zealand to Hawaii to the yakuzas of Japan to a high-security penitentiary in Phoenix, Arizona to a sideshow museum in North Carolina. All these different facets of life the tattoo touched on (from the criminal underworld of Yokohama to the native traditions of Hawaii) are reasonably explained and will provide excellent starting threads for anyone wishing to dug deeper in the history of body painting.
Thankfully the docu avoids the macho-hardcore-bonehead subculture often associated with the tattoo and instead opts for an anthropologic-historic angle, although the groove metal guitar chugging aimlessly in the background is perhaps a remnant of the first. The host lacks the special weight to coax the most information from his interviewees (most of them not people used to being interviewed about their particular crafts so a bit camera-shy to discuss them at length) but overall, as a starting point, Ancient Ink is 90 minutes well spent.