Set in 17th century Edo Japan, Blue Eye Samurai is a story that underscores the power of unwavering determination in seeking revenge. The show heavily draws inspiration from samurai action films with both eastern and western influences in a 2D-3D hybrid animated format. Mizu (voiced by Maya Erskine), a mixed-race swordmaster, is bent on revenge while also concealing parts of her identity, such as her gender, to venture along her path of bloodshed.
Anime Trending had the opportunity to interview the creators, writers, and executive producers of Blue Eye Samurai, Michael Green and Amber Noizumi, who are also a husband and wife team. Michael Green is an Academy Award and Emmy-nominated film television writer and producer, known for Blade Runner 2049 (2017), Logan (2017), and A Haunting in Venice (2023). This is Amber Noizumi’s debut in the entertainment industry for writing and production.
We discuss the perspective of a revenge tale from a marginalized point of view and the details of Blue Eye Samurai’s production. The show incorporates elements rarely used in animated series such as stunt and wardrobe departments to heighten the impact of the action sequences and give a glimpse into the cultural elements that bring a revenge-soaked world to life. Blue Eye Samurai premieres November 3rd on Netflix.
Blue Eye Samurai showcases Mizu’s journey through the feelings of being an outsider. You mentioned previously that the inspiration came partially from your lives. What was it like writing Mizu’s character, and are there other aspects of her character or other characters that you think were inspired from other personal elements of your lives?
Amber Noizumi: Well, I will say it was cathartic to write Mizu’s character. A lot of us who feel marginalized for any reason at all, whether it be our race, orientation, or any number of things, it’s uncomfortable to talk about. To be able to write a fictional character who gets to just do the utmost things, and have the biggest reactions to confrontations was extremely therapeutic for me, very personal, and fun to write.
Michael Green: Obviously, this is much more telling from Amber’s experience. My dad gave me a copy of Musashi by Eiji Yoshikawa when I was a kid and we read that together. That may have been the seed planted of just me loving that genre and that era and a lifelong love of absorbing those things.
Amber Noizumi: I would say for Michael who is very process-oriented, [is a lot] like Ringo (Masi Oka), who is so detail-oriented making his soba and his tools, and Sword Father (Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa) in the art of sword making. I see that, especially with Michael and his craft in writing.
Michael Green: I think part of the show is an excuse to just get to do long, loving, beautiful shots of dough being rolled out or metal being smithed. These are the things, if we were to spend all day on YouTube, we would end up looking at!
That’s great! So one of the other things that was so interesting from our point of view was watching so much of the animation sequences that were heavily inspired from action and samurai movies. We have elements of Kill Bill and the samurai movies that inspired it in the first place, as well as the music composition. It seems the common theme has always been the “East meets West” element involving both Mizu’s character as well as the technical aspects of the series. What was it like settling on that or trying to decide how to mix the right elements together?
Michael Green: It sounds like you were in our tone meetings! Our crew of incredibly gifted artists in their fields all came from very different backgrounds, many of them Asian, many of them mixed race, and all of them have a different experience of what that is. We wanted them to feel like this was a place not to hide that or have to play-act being something else, but to be who they are and to steepen that.
So when we were talking to our actors about how to voice their roles, we said, “We want you to use your natural tones. You’re from California, or Brooklyn, that means you’ll have certain inflections. You have an Australian accent even though you’re Asian? Great!” We wanted people to bring themselves, and that made for something that was a mix.
Amber Noizumi: Our composer, Amie Doherty, just nailed it. We said that this was an “East meets West” and there were a lot of things inspired by actual western movies, Clint Eastwood-type things that we wanted to bring that energy to Mizu. She really got the scope of that and blended those things beautifully because we knew we couldn’t do traditional Edo era music throughout, although we certainly do it at points to be enjoyable to the modern ear.
Michael Green: Same thing with the animation style. We weren’t going to be an anime. We love anime but people who make anime are so good at it. Instead of trying to just copy, here’s a chance to make something else that [brings] different styles, techniques, experiences from a western production with eastern influences. It made for something we hope is new, fresh, and different.
That’s actually the other thing about the animation style. We’re seeing a big trend across the board of this 2D meets 3D animation style mixture, so it’s not one or the other and that’s kind of been going on in the last couple years. What was it like for your first time working with an animation project?
Michael Green: We wanted something that didn’t feel game engine-y. If it was 3D, we wanted to be careful of that. As much as possible, we just wanted [it] to feel… “organic” is the word people throw around a lot, but that it just felt like there was a camera lens in there capturing these things and moving within [the] space with physics. That weight had weight, and at the same time showcased the artist’s hand.
Our supervising producer, Jane Wu, she always said from day one, “This should be a place where we celebrate artistry, where we see brush stroke, where everything felt bespoke.” That meant everything was done in-house. Everything was really designed within an inch of its life by artists who got to just swing for the fences.
You also mentioned in a previous interview most animation departments don’t have a stunt department for coordinating the action sequences, or even the wardrobe elements. There are so many beautiful historical elements in the wardrobe design. What was it like incorporating these departments that you normally would see in a live-action drama style show in Blue Eye Samurai as an animation?
Amber Noizumi: For the action and stunt choreography, that was our supervising director Jane Wu. That was her idea—she’d always wanted to try it and she was friends with Sunny Sun. She said, “He owes me a favor, so I’m gonna call him.”
Michael Green: She had on speed dial the greatest stunt director.
Amber Noizumi: We don’t know what the favor was, but he delivered and it brought so much flare to our show.
Michael Green: I think it was like, twenty days of production in a covid bubble of stuntmen in China who were working out sequences from our show, and delivering us this material. Our jaws dropped. Everyone’s jaws dropped, and we knew that these sequences were going to be character-focused, story-driven, but gobsmackingly original and fun to watch!
Amber Noizumi: As far as costumes, Michael had worked with Suttirat Larlarb before, and just knew what depths she would bring to it. So we said, “Let’s do it!” Our character designers are amazing, but there’s not the same amount of time to dig as deep as she did.
Michael Green: She’s a professor in her heart and dug so deep into the historical records to find not just textiles that no one’s seen in hundreds of years, or patterns that have been in museums hidden away, but the culture of “Who were these people? Where were they in society?” and how their clothes tell a story.
For stunts and bringing in Suttirat Larlarb for wardrobe, we told Netflix we wanted to do that. They deserve a lot of credit because they said yes. That means they had to spend money for departments that animation doesn’t normally think about, because they knew we were onto something special, and that the results would make people like yourself lean forward and go, “Wow, they took the time!” We had to have partners in Netflix that could see that finish line and know the importance of bringing in high-level artists early on.
Do you have a favorite wardrobe or an action sequence stunt that you’d like to share?
Amber Noizumi: My favorite piece of wardrobe is Madame Kaji’s (Ming-Na Wen) uchikake. I want somebody to build that for me or I mean, I want it!
Michael Green: Well, a version of it exists. It’s in a museum somewhere! That was one of the patterns Suttirat found and then interpreted in her own way. She always talked about how Akemi (Brenda Song) for example, would be the fashion forward one, so she would be wearing whatever was bleeding edge fashion of the time.
Amber Noizumi: And the designs differ between Kyoto and Edo. She [said], “This is what they were wearing or this color, this palette here, and the kimono sleeves are different in this decade,” and really went granular.
Michael Green: The things she taught us. Yeah, they wore more black and gold whereas in Kyoto, it was more colored jewel tone. It was fascinating.
That’s awesome! Episode 5 is kind of interesting because this is where Amber, you have solo writing credits, and Michael, you have solo directing credits. Is there anything different from this particular episode that stands out to you?
Michael Green: It’s my favorite story that Amber wrote. Loved it and it was special. That’s why I said I want to direct it because even if I do a bad job, it’ll still be the best episode! From the minute Amber pitched me that story of what Mizu’s secret history was, suddenly I knew the character who I never even imagined before.
Amber Noizumi: We knew we needed to give Mizu something really meaningful after we see her do some very morally questionable things in the episode before. When I started writing the story, my heart actually broke for her writing it. It sounds silly, but I would sometimes cry, “Poor Mizu!” because we’d become so attached to her, writing her, and thinking of her going through that.
Michael Green: Well, so much of her life taught her that attachment is dangerous. That is a lesson she learned and took on, and so much of the stories we told her in the present day of her life are about challenging that and forcing her to accept some level of attachment. Those things are very emotional for us.
A lot of the parts of Blue Eye Samurai is Mizu learning to gain acceptance, and at the same time, it is also driving towards a bloody, violent, almost cold-blooded revenge. How do you balance that level of storytelling?
Michael Green: It’s complicated. Both things can be true.
Do you have any closing thoughts for our audience at Anime Trending who really want to get into Blue Eye Samurai?
Amber Noizumi: We just hope that anime fans will be open-minded and come try out something new! I know it’s different, and I know anime fans love anime for a reason. It’s an awesome art form and we’re trying to do not something better than, but something different!
Michael Green: Give us a shot! We’ve been correcting people for years saying, “No, this isn’t anime. This is something else, help us make people understand!” But we would be honored if you gave us your time and attention!
Thank you so much!