Netflix’s Blue Eye Samurai is not based on a manga or book. It doesn’t have any ties to any previous story that has been told. Instead, writers and co-creators Amber Noizumi and Michael Green were inspired by their own child, who was born with blue eyes. They thought about possible stories that could come from a mixed child with blue eyes, which many in society would consider beautiful. But for Noizumi, she immediately thought about Japan’s Edo period in the 17th century which frowned upon mixed children.
“This [period] was what immediately came to mind when understanding that this [time] was the most closed [off],” Noizumi told The Nerds of Color on Zoom. “Japan was at its most homogeneous and is still a very homogeneous country. But this [period] it was actually illegal to be of a different race in Japan. When we were thinking about what it would have been like to walk around with blue eyes in Japan, this is when it would have been the worst.”
The Edo period, as shown in the series, was a beautiful time rich with culture. They also wanted to give it a more adult element by adding graphic violence and explicit sex scenes and nudity. Green says that every graphic scene had a purpose and was not added just for the sake of adding it.
“This is just the way we envisioned telling the story,” Green explains. “With any depiction of sexuality, we wanted to make sure it was story forward and was necessary and that it was artistic and beautifully wrought. We made sure we didn’t fall into any of the usual pitfalls of overuse there. And then with the violence, we wanted it to be kind of fun.”
The fight scenes were choreographed and channeled the rage from the characters, but also looked stunning to watch. He compared it to watching the fight styles of Kill Bill as The Bride exacts her revenge in the most remarkable, but deadly ways.
Noizumi and Green did extensive research on the time period and the samurai way of life through books and films. While they were on lockdown, the couple indulged in the Criterion Collection. They also consulted experts on the time period and Japanese culture by sending them the scripts to evaluate. Even the calligraphy shown on screen is accurate to the Edo period, which Green and Noizumi are proud of.
“We would ask them ‘how are we doing? Are we bending reality?’, Green shares. “We’re doing the best we can. You have to trust yourself enough to trust others and listen to the experts.”
In Blue Eye Samurai, blue-eyed warrior Mizu (Maya Erskine) is searching for the only four white men who were in Japan at the time of her birth and plans revenge against them for causing her to be a “creature of shame.” As revenge was not an option for women at the time, Mizu must hide her gender as the sets on this adventure.
While the story may sound familiar to another gender-disguised warrior of the name Mulan, Noizumi was actually inspired by Barbara Streisand’s Yentl, a woman who dresses as a man because she wants to study the Torah.
“It’s the same with Mizu,” Noizumi explains. “She has this goal and objective to be the greatest swordsman. That’s what she has to do. She can’t go on a revenge quest if she’s a woman. She has to do everything in service of her objective, which is to get revenge.”
While the story does touch on white colonists trying to take over Japan, Green didn’t want that to be the main premise of the story. The story does have the foreigners bringing in guns, which they claim is better than the old ways of honor through sword fighting. But for Green, it really represents everything that is beautiful and traditional, easily being destroyed by “some bozo who can point a stick that has a fire-and-shoot a ball at you at supersonic speeds.”
“Our villain relishes this idea that ‘I can take your most beautiful stained glass window and destroy it with a brick,'” says Green. “That is an awful thing. It makes for a really good villain.”
Speaking of villains, British-Irish actor Kenneth Branagh voices Irish importer Abijah Fowler, one of the villainous white foreigners that Mizu searches for. The writers really wanted several of the main characters to reflect their own ethnicities. Erskine, like Mizu, is of mixed Japanese descent. The rest of the cast were actors of Japanese and Asian descent. Even the background actors were of Asian descent.
“Representation was everyone’s goal,” says Green. “We also wanted some disability representation, which you don’t see because it’s voice cast. [We wanted to represent] people both on the [character] side and on the actor side. It was a chance to bring in some voices that don’t usually [get to be seen or heard].”
Watch the full interview below:
Blue Eye Samurai premieres on November 3 on Netflix