Published: Friday, 03 November 2023 15:48 | Written by Jamie Ruby
Today, the adult animation series, Blue Eye Samurai, premieres on Netflix. The series takes place in Edo-period Japan and follows the blue-eyed mixed-race Mizu (voiced by Maya Erskine), who, living in disguise, is on a quest for revenge. The voice cast also includes George Takei as Seki, Masi Oka as Ringo, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa as the Swordsmaker, Branda Song as Akemi, Darren Barnet as Taigen, Randall Park as Heidi Shinzo, and Kenneth Branagh as Abidjan Fowler.
The animation was created and written by the husband and wife team of Michael Green and Amber Noizumi, who recently spoke with SciFi Vision about the exciting series.
Watch the interview or read the full transcript below, and be sure to check out the series, now streaming on Netflix.
SCIFI VISION:To start, can you talk about, where did the idea come from?
AMBER NOIZUMI:Well, the idea originally came from - I mean, there's a shorter answer that we had our daughter over fifteen years ago, and she was born with blue eyes, and we called her Little Blue Eye Samurai, and that was a great name. Then, I started sort of digging deeper and thinking what it would have been like to have blue eyes in ancient Japan when the borders were closed, and I started to kind of exercise my own demons about, you know, thinking that blue eyes were beautiful, and what would it have been like? From there, we just sort of started spinning this tail and got serious about it, about five years ago and actually sort of putting pen to paper and flushing it out.
SCIFI VISION:Let me ask you, Michael, how is this different working on an, I guess, [anime], compared to a live action show? How is it different for you?
MICHAEL GREEN:Well, as we learned doing it, we're animation not anime, because anime’s a particular style…It's a show for anime fans, but it isn't anime, and we want to make that clear. In some ways, it's very much the same as live action. In some ways, it's very different. We treated the scripts as if they were live action scripts, the scenes had to make sense; everything had to be really locked in and efficient and taut, and the emotions had to be grounded and real and experiential. So many of the different departments, like casting, we treated the same way as live action. Pre-vis, stunt-vis, wardrobe costume design we treated like live action, sound and music; it was no different. But the production element is very, very different, because storyboard to animation, that was new for us. And that's great, because we come out of live action, and as fans of animation, we thought we knew how that worked, but one of the most fun things you can do in our field is find something completely new where you feel like a kid again. We got to work with incredible artists. Our supervising director, Jane Wu, just really took it upon herself to teach us how to deserve the jobs we already had in running a show that's animated. You just learn what the limitations are and what the production pressures are, and we got to learn on the job.
SCIFI VISION:How, how closely did you work with designing the characters, since it is animated?
AMBER NOIZUMI:I mean, very closely. We knew that Mizu needed to look very, very specific. We needed Mizu to not look overly pretty or sexy or to have a lot of elements, and we needed her to not look too Japanese or too white. It took our character designers, namely Brian Kesinger, and we did many, many iterations until everyone agreed, this is our Mizu. Once we got Mizu, all of the other characters kind of fell into place.
MICHAEL GREEN:It’s a lot like casting, where you're just really looking for perfect - because you know it as soon as you see it. Everyone kind of had that palpable, “that's Mizu.” Then, on the technical side, they had to make sure that that character could be animated in a way that she would be expressive, because we just knew we needed the audience to have as high an attachment to that character as if she was cast with a live human being.
SCIFI VISION:You [mention] casting. Did the voice casting for the main characters come quickly then with this?
AMBER NOIZUMI:They did. Yes. We had Maya Erskine in mind for Mizu from the time we started writing. She was very excited to come aboard our crazy ship, and everybody else was really excited about this new idea for a series. People were - it helped that productions were shut down due to COVID. Then, everybody wanted to do something. But everybody just brought their artistry and lended their talents so beautifully.
MICHAEL GREEN:And they trusted us. We would say until we were blue in the face. “No, this is going to be different, and it's gonna look different.” And they were like, “Uh huh,” and then finally we started being able to show them stuff, and it was wonderful, because they just looked like “Oh, that's what you meant all this time.”
SCIFI VISION:Yeah, I was going to say, that usually takes quite a bit with with the animation, I'm guessing, for them to get to see it. Years even.
MICHAEL GREEN:Yeah, whether it was stills or just little bits here and there. And, you know, different people have different levels of experience with animation to know what the early phase stuff looks like, but everyone was game; everyone was trusting. It was great.
SCIFI VISION:Out of curiosity, just my own curiosity, is it in 3D, though rendered into 2D? Because sometimes with the environments, it seemed like it was like the cameras were 3D.
MICHAEL GREEN:It was a hybrid. Yeah, 3D, 2D. There are 2D elements. There are times when the backgrounds are 2D, times when it's 3D. Our favorite parts are where you can't tell. And every once in a while, there are definitely parts we’re like, “Can we retake that shot?” “No, darn.” I guess it revealed itself.
SCIFI VISION:Can you talk about your favorite scene that you're allowed to talk about? Is there something?
MICHAEL GREEN:I am very, very proud of Episode Five. Amber wrote that by herself, and I think it's the most beautiful story. It was just one where we kind of kicked around like, “Hey, what might happen in this episode?” Amber just said, “What if it was this,” and she pitched it to me in like one sitting, and I'm like, “That's the whole episode. Let’s do that.” Then, we just put it on the board, typed it up, and shot it. It was one of those amazing development processes.
SCIFI VISION:Is it strange getting to see what comes from your head onto the screen? Especially when it's animated, that's got to be a cool feeling.
AMBER NOIZUMI:It's amazing, I mean, to see it come together so beautifully. I know that it doesn't always come from the page onto the screen the way you want it to. So, this has been an incredible experience.
MICHAEL GREEN:Yeah, I think the only disappointment is that [it’s an] animation that was done digitally so much that there aren't as many drawings for us to steal and put up at home. It all just lives on iPads and screens. But we would wallpaper the house with Blue Eye Samurai.
SCIFI VISION:Do you have more story [fleshed out], like if it does go on? Because it definitely seems like it could.
AMBER NOIZUMI:Oh, yeah. Yeah, we’ve got a long journey planned.
MICHAEL GREEN:This is season one.
AMBER NOIZUMI:We need everybody to watch it November 3rd. So, starting November 3rd, so that we can tell it’s a very fulsome tale we have.
MICHAEL GREEN:Yep, just the start.
SCIFI VISION:I was going to say, why don't you give us give a pitch, for people who haven't seen it? What can they expect?
MICHAEL GREEN:Blue Eye Samurai? Oh, gosh, loglines. [laughs] The hardest thing. If you said, “can you tell me the long version,” we could do that.
AMBER NOIZUMI:I think the logline is “a mixed-race master of the sword seeks revenge in a life of disguise in Edo-period Japan.”