For husband and wife team Michael Green and Amber Noizumi, the idea of Netflix’s newest adult animated series, Blue Eye Samurai began 15 years ago when their daughter was four months old. Noizumi was struck by her blue eyes, and while dealing with her own feelings of excitement and shame, began to imagine what it would have been like for a mixed-race samurai to have existed in Japan at a time when being white would have been illegal.
The show’s animation style draws inspiration from Japanese art—even incorporating bunraku into an entire episode's storyline—while also mixing 2D and 3D animation techniques in order to create a unique, refreshing art style. The star-studded cast boasts actors such as Maya Erskine, Masi Oka, Darren Barnet, Brenda Song, George Takei, Randall Park, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, Stephanie Hsu, Ming-Na Wen, Harry Shum Jr., and Mark Dacascos. Yo! spoke to Noizumi and Green ahead of the premiere about representation and what they wanted our readers to take away from the show.
Yo! Magazine: This story centers female characters and their stories. Were the representations of all the women throughout the show influenced or changed by your own experiences, whether that be as Americans, Japanese Americans, mixed race Americans?
Amber Noizumi: I think that women everywhere understand our limitations just in the world today, and we can only imagine what they were like several 100 years ago. We did a lot of research about what the lives of women would have been like, and a lot of that is not even [completely] accurate because women weren't able to narrate their own tales very much hundreds of years ago. We just have to project what it must have been like, what they were thinking, the things that they would say, and the things that they would do—so yes, every female character is going to have a bit of the writer and a bit of their experience injected into it.
Yo!: It was so great and refreshing to hear the voices of familiar Asian and Asian American actors in this show. Blue Eye Samurai is set in Japan's Edo period, but are there any parts of the characters that were based on people in your real life or people that the audience might be familiar with?
MG: We imagined the characters on the page as fully formed as you can imagine them, but it really isn't until they're inhabited [that they come to life]. In this show, unlike many others, we spent a moment with each actor just talking about, "What do you think about this project, in this period?" Everyone had a unique perspective that then infused their reads. We learned a lot from them, and we got to know our characters so much better by hearing what mattered to them. I'm sure there are specific things said by various family members of ours that are little easter egg moments in there. I think the biggest easter egg is we have our kids in the show. We wanted to make sure that every character was voiced by an Asian cast [member]. But yes, I think there are definitely a couple things I've heard your [Noizumi's] parents say showing up in the show.
AN: When we were writing Seki we always imagined George [Takei] saying those words. I don't know him personally, but that's how I imagined George Takei might be if he were assigned to that role in 1600s Japan.
Yo!: We do have an ever-growing community of Japanese Americans and mixed race Japanese Americans that are part of our community and our platform. This is a very Japanese-based story, but is there anything that you hope our community takes away from the show or the characters?
AN: I definitely hope that Japanese Americans [and] Japanese people all over the world can look at it and see representation. I know growing up, I was always looking for the Asian character in the show, and they were often just the teacher or maybe a funny friend, if you were lucky. To actually get to see a show where it's all Asian voices, and all the characters are Asian and you get to see a real appreciation for the culture—we didn't treat it lightly. We didn't just throw noodles in a bowl, we didn't just have everyone eating sushi from Sugarfish, we tried to make it accurate. We tried to appreciate Japanese culture and I just hope that Japanese Americans and Japanese everywhere, especially younger people, will see that it's appreciated and be able to embrace the culture in a way that I wasn't able to as a young person.
Yo! was invited to a special screening and reception to celebrate the premiere of the series (check out our recap of the event here). Guests at the screening watched the first episode of the series ahead of its premiere, and listen in on a fireside conversation. Moderated by CAPE’s Executive Director, Michelle Sugihara, attendees heard first-hand about the show from Noizumi and Green, alongside the show's supervising producer/director Jane Wu.
The reception was hosted at the Terasaki Budokan and featured food from beloved Little Tokyo restaurants such as Far Bar and Fugetsudo, candy sculptures by Shinobu “Shan the Candyman” Ichiyanagi, and performances from Asano Taiko and Aoi Yamaguchi, with musical accompaniment by Tsugara Terry.
"Blue Eye Samurai" creators hope viewers can appreciate Japanese culture in Netflix’s newest adult animated series
The series, which premiered on Netflix on November 3rd and stars PEN15's Maya Erskine, is the story of a mixed-race, female sword master’s revenge set in Edo-period Japan.Read More >>