The Big Picture

  • Blue Eye Samurai is an action-packed animated series following the story of Mizu, a young biracial woman seeking revenge.
  • The series was created by husband and wife duo Michael Green and Amber Noizumi, marking their first collaboration and they have a four-season plan.
  • The cast includes talented actors like Maya Erskine, Kenneth Branagh, Randall Park, and more.


Netflix’s action-packed new animated series Blue Eye Samurai is set in 17th-century Japan, also known as the country’s Edo Period, and follows Mizu (Maya Erskine), a young biracial woman. The daughter of a cruel white man named Abijah Fowler (Kenneth Branagh), Mizu has been deemed a “creature of shame” by those around her. By disguising herself as a male samurai, Mizu embarks on a bloody and violent path of revenge against those who have wronged her and her loved ones.

The series was created by husband and wife Michael Green and Amber Noizumi, which marks their first time working together. Green has become one of the hottest screenwriters in Hollywood. He’s an Academy Award nominee, has worked on popular TV series such as Heroes, Smallville, and American Gods, and wrote the screenplays for numerous blockbuster films including Logan, Blade Runner 2049, Kenneth Branagh’s Hercule Poirot films, Jungle Cruise, and The Call of the Wild.

With Blue Eye Samurai premiering on Netflix later this week, Collider was lucky enough to sit down with Green and Noizumi, to talk about the series’ biggest influences, assembling a star-studded cast, what it’s like working on an animated series, their four-season plan, and much more.

The poster for Blue Eye Samurai
Image via Netflix

Blue Eye Samurai

This provocative and visually stunning cinematic series immerses the viewer in a world of vivid adult animation with a live-action edge. Set in Edo-period Japan, BLUE EYE SAMURAI follows Mizu (voiced by Maya Erskine), a mixed-race master of the sword who lives a life in disguise seeking the deliverance of revenge. – Netflix

Release Date
November 3, 2023

Cast
Maya Erskine, Kenneth Branagh, George Takei, Darren Barnet, Masi Oka, Randall Park, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, Brenda Song, Stephanie Hsu, Ming-Na Wen, Harry Shum Jr, Mark Dacascos

Main Genre
Animation

Genres
Action, Adventure, Drama

Writers
Michael Green, Amber Noizumi, Yana Bille-Chung

Streaming Sevice
Netflix

Directors
Jane Wu, Michael Green, Alan Taylor

Showrunner
Michael Green, Amber Noizumi

COLLIDER: I know this marks your first official time working together, but Amber, I guess this question is more for you because I know Michael does a lot of cool projects. Do you ever put in your own input if you see him writing something that is fascinating to you?

MICHAEL GREEN: Literally everything I’ve ever done.

AMBER NOIZUMI: I have read everything he’s written, and I give him notes which he often says, “Okay. Nice, nice. That’s nice that you think that. Thanks, but no thanks.”

GREEN: I would say Amber is the only person whose notes I actually take. She has been my foundational conversations and first and only notes-giver for literally everything I’ve ever done.

NOIZUMI: Well, that’s very nice, but…

GREEN: That is 100% true.

NOIZUMI: I have been tracking Michael’s work for, you know, 20 years.

So I know you’ve worked in both television and film, but was this always going to be a series?

GREEN: This was always a series. We wanted to– We still want to tell an ongoing story. Our fondest hope is that this is Season 1 of four at a minimum. We’d love to be talked into more. This is a tale just beginning.

How did it land at Netflix?

NOIZUMI: We pitched it to various places. It was over four years ago we pitched this, but Netflix has been, at the time and still continues to be, ambitious in its projects, and especially with adult animation. So they were very bullish on the idea and have been great partners.

GREEN: Yeah, we set it up when they were still extremely bullish on original material and had been expanding out in their animation divisions. It’s since contracted a bit for financial reasons, but we have managed to limbo right under that fire stick.

Mizu in Blue Eye Samurai
Image via Netflix

How far along did you start building out the cast? I thought Maya Erskine was incredible in the lead role, and I was kind of shocked to hear Randall Park voicing such a villainous kind of role because he’s always just so happy when you see him in stuff.

NOIZUMI: Randall is amazing. As soon as we started writing, we were talking about who would potentially play the cast, and Maya Erskine immediately came to mind for Mizu. We had loved her work in PEN15. I mean, that’s where, I think, most of the world was first exposed to her. The way she was able to portray the pain of being biracial as a young person, but she did it with such humor and ease, we knew that she could take that same sort of pain and channel it into anger and revenge.

GREEN: Yeah, she’s such a gifted, skilled, and trained actor that there was just no doubt. We had one conversation with her, and we were done. When we were writing, we used to play the game Who Else Could Be Ringo But Masi Oka? And the answer was always Masi Oka. So, very early on, is the answer to your question, we were talking about cast. It was an easy, fun thing to cast because I think everyone we asked to be in a role said yes, including guest cast. I think we had one person say no to us for schedule. People were kind of psyched about it, and we were really grateful.

With Kenneth Branagh, that was when I was really curious about getting him on board. How did that come about?

GREEN: Called in a favor. [Laughs] I’ve had the good fortune to work with him on the Agatha Christie Poirot adaptations and had a feeling this would be in his taste bucket. But [we] did it very officially and formally and went to his managers and said, “Do you think he might be interested in doing something that is [laughs], by all accounts, beneath his time and efforts?” And he was a very quick yes and was just fantastic, fantastic in the role.

NOIZUMI: Also, Kenneth is such a pro that it’s one take. He goes through, he reads the lines, and we’re like, “Are we done? Okay, I guess we’re done.”

GREEN: I think one of our funnier conversations is early on we said we think this character is of Irish descent, and he said, “Where on the map in Ireland do you think he’s from?” Then he sent us options from what towns, and of course, we’re like, “The Irish part?” He was, yes, a very skilled and deft performer.

Going back to Maya, I know she also wrote on PEN15. Did she ever have any input on any of the story? Did she ever ask about things or have advice?

NOIZUMI: I’m trying to remember. I can’t remember a time when she pitched on story, but she really wanted to go back and review her material and the way she read it and make sure that it was exactly the way she felt Mizu would convey it. Some people just want to be done and move on, but she really wanted to make sure she got it exactly right for Mizu, and she did.

Another big question I had because I saw you posted on, I guess it’s now X, even though I refuse to call it that, but that you guys had pitched it as Kill Bill meets Yentl, which I love that…

GREEN: [Laughs] That is true.

A fight scene between a Fang leader and Mizu in Blue Eye Samurai
Image via Netflix

What were some of your other big influences on the series?

GREEN: I mean, you have to start with Yentl not just [because of] the woman with a passion for an art form needing to hide that she is a woman in order to go into it, but also the love triangle, you know, the Hadass/Avigdor/Yentl love triangle is just absolutely where we wanted to be story-wise. But the influences, constantly…

NOIZUMI: Really, there were so many because we wrote it before the pandemic, the first episode, but then we were writing the rest of the episodes during the hard pandemic. So we watched a lot of movies, and all in the service of our story. So we got the Criterion Collection, and we watched a lot of old Japanese movies. One of them is called The Life of Oharu from 1952, a very sad tale of just a woman’s lot and the limited options for women. And we always need to remember that Mizu didn’t have options for getting her revenge; she had to. This was the life she had, and then for our character Akemi, we needed to remember what the rules were for them and how sad they were. But, you know, some of the big ones – Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon

GREEN: Harakiri by [Masaki] Kobayashi was a big one aesthetically. That was a big directing influence on everyone involved in the show. Genndy Tartakovsky – he is so incredible in his animated television work, especially at both being incredibly patient in his storytelling and yet incredibly precise and compact in his storytelling so that he leaves room for atmospheric, thoughtful, quiet moments and as much as his artwork is lauded, his storytelling needs equal attention. We could go on and on. We love nerding out on it.

NOIZUMI: Lady Snowblood, Onibaba.

GREEN: And of course, Kill Bill. Going back to the pilot episode when we were thinking, “What song is gonna be in Mizu’s training montage? We kept saying, “Something like the training montage in Kill Bill,” until finally, we were like, “What if we just use the training montage music from Kill Bill and let everyone compare us to it?” And we say, “Yes, please. Thank you.”

I will say that was the best use of that music since Kill Bill.

NOIZUMI: Thank you!

GREEN: Thank you very much. We’ll take it.

The other episode that really stood out to me was the fifth episode, and I was wondering, how did that all come to be? I think that was just the episode that was, to me, a masterpiece.

GREEN: Isn’t it funny that the masterpiece is the one that Amber wrote without me?

I’m sorry.

GREEN: No, no. I think that’s the reason why. [Laughs]

NOIZUMI: Thank you. Well, we needed to give the audience an explanation for what this Onryō

is that we kept talking about. We also needed to give Mizu a backstory to really humanize her, that she wasn’t just the sad orphan, she wasn’t just an angry woman ready to cut down everybody in sight, but really give her this. Like, this could have been her life. If it had just gone a certain other direction, she could have had this idealistic life. We wanted to see her when she was most herself, when she was happy, she had love for five minutes, and she showed her true self for five minutes. So, we wanted to layer a lot of those things, like, here was who she could have been, here is the kind of classic Japanese tale that we’re telling, and here is what she’s become all layered. And I will say Michael directed that episode, so it’s not all me.

GREEN: I wanted to direct that episode because I was so in love with that script. I knew it would be the best episode no matter how badly I mangled it because of how beautiful the story was. There’s a lot. We can go deep on that one. It’s really a beautiful story.

Maya Erskine as Mizu in Blue Eye Samurai.
Image via Netflix

I also really wanted to ask about the animation style because it feels so distinct. I just loved the look of it. I know Jane Wu also played a large part in the animation but were there ever different stages? Did you ever toy around with different animation styles?

GREEN: Oh, absolutely. But with Jane Wu, I mean, the answer to how that comes about is we talked about it with Jane, and she said, “I know how to do this.” One of the most important things, whenever you’re laying the foundation for every show, is to make certain declarative statements, and one of them we just kept saying is, “But what if we made this good?” And everyone involved was like, “Yeah, what if we made this really good?” including our partners at Netflix. One of the critical moments we have to credit our benefactors at Netflix with us was when we were looking for a vendor studio to work with. We had all of our team prepare the materials and send [them] over, and what we learned, and how animation works, is then it is then interpreted in the house style of whatever vendor studio you work with. We knew we were going to be going to some familiar ones that would bring back a certain familiar level of work, but we said to Netflix, “Hey, who’s our reach? Who’s gonna be the one that we go, ‘Shit, we can’t afford it, but look how beautiful it is?’” And to their credit, they said, “Okay, let’s try working with Blue Spirit, as well,” a French Canadian-based company. Their work, of course, came back gorgeous at a level that no one else had achieved, and of course, at a price point that was not exactly what everyone wanted and also was gonna take more time. We just said, “But remember our premise: what if we made it good?” And we all held hands and jumped off that cliff and worked with Blue Spirit, and the work speaks for itself. We have them to thank for it, and Jane Wu to thank for it.

That definitely paid off. I was getting lunch with a friend and I was telling him about the series, and he was like, “Oh, I’d seen the trailer for that,” and he was like, “The animation!” I feel like, for some people, that’s what really catches them.

GREEN: What we just said from the start was we want characters who people will forget they’re animated and just have the high degree of attachment they would as if it was a cast actor.

NOIZUMI: And Jane Wu really said, “I want this to look like nothing anybody’s ever seen.” We’re not going to do anime, which we all love anime, but we’re not doing anime. We’re not doing Disney. We’re doing something completely different.

GREEN: And she knew who to bring in to make that real. We got to learn on the job.

The fight scenes are among the best things I’ve seen animated or live-action in a very long time, especially on television. I was curious, how do you go about writing those fight scenes? Did you have a lot of input with Jane, as well?

GREEN: Anytime writers write action scenes, you put a version down, and in that version, you have to have a concept for it, but then you have to have the character. The reason you like our fight scenes, if you do, is because they are character scenes; something is happening to them in some story pieces being advanced. So, we need to make sure we did that work. Then, once it was clear what the intentions were and what the concept was about it, we’d say, “Now please take it and plus it. Please make it whatever brilliant thing you can see in your head.”

NOIZUMI: And Jane called a favor to an old friend, sunnysun, who is one of the best stunt choreographers…

GREEN: In the world.

NOIZUMI: Yeah, in the world. He had to understand storytelling, so he took whatever version, for instance, in Episode 5 between Mizu and Mikio, I had whatever weak sauce version of a fight scene I had [laughs], but he understood the beats of it. He understood the storytelling of it and made this incredible version of it that still stayed true to the story.

GREEN: Then on a smaller scale, when it was just single moves, again, rather than to have our board artists or animators have to be masters of something that they were not going to be masters of, Jane put together an animation team of friends and family. We called it Backyard Stunt Viz. We would walk into the office sometimes, and one of our animation supervisors, Mike Greenholt, would be in a kimono with a wooden sword and would be battling Jane, and someone would be recording it. They would use this as reference that they would then send over and paint over so that the moves would be correct because everyone was obsessive about the martial arts being accurate.

NOIZUMI: And they would do it for camera angles, too, so they could see the way it would look.

GREEN: Yes, sometimes our COVID-empty Netflix offices were filled with people fighting.

I also was really surprised by the sense of humor on this show, as well, and I was wondering if one of you had more of the humor input.

GREEN: I don’t know. Amber’s the funniest person I know.

NOIZUMI: I think we get along because of our banter, so I think it was more equal.

GREEN: Drama requires people to be irrepressibly themselves, and that is always funny that no matter how serious the situation is, a petty person is petty, you know, a hungry person thinks about food. I haven’t had breakfast yet, so that’s why I’m already talking about lunch.

I would be remiss if I didn’t even try to ask about this, but as a big fan of BioShock, I know you are working on that script, and I was wondering if there’s been any progress on that or anything you can say about it?

GREEN: I can, to a degree. Yes. You have to measure your words, or you’ll start to see a laser pointer at my forehead from the Netflix legal. Netflix has been amazing about it. They were excited about it before the strike, they’re excited about it now, post-strike. Yes, I got called, the, “How’s it coming along?” the minute the strike was over, “You about ready…?” Been meeting regularly with Francis Lawrence and his team to refine a draft to go back in. We’re all optimistic. We all love it. It’s a great big sprawling nightmare world we wanna see real. So, here’s hoping. I would love to have an update for you soon.

Awesome.

GREEN: Did you play the game?

Yes, the first one I played was BioShock Infinite. I’ve always been a big fan of that game.

GREEN: That is a lot of people’s favorite.

Blue Eye Samurai will be streaming on Netflix starting November 3.

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