Moviefone recently had the pleasure of speaking with showrunners Amber Noizumi and Michael Green about the inspiration behind the upcoming animated series, casting Maya Erskine as the lead character Mizu, the influences from various samurai films and shows, and how the process of approaching their first animated project.
You can read our full interview below or click on the video player above to watch the interview.
Moviefone: To begin with, how did this story come together, and what was it about the Eddo period that made you want to focus on it specifically?
Amber Noizumi: So the Eddo period is heralded as Japan’s golden age. I mean, to this day, they call it the golden age of Japan. That was when their borders were closed, completely closed off to the outside world, where it was its most homogenous. The idea to have somebody who’s mixed race, as I am, and we have a daughter who was born with blue eyes, and we called her our Blue Eye Samurai, which was the start of our conversations about it. What would it have been like to be different, to look different, to be a different race during that time? So ultimately, that was the beginning of it, and it just, with our research, our ideas got richer from there.
MF: Speaking of the blue eyes, the main character’s name is Mizu, which means water in Japanese. Was that the inspiration for naming the character, based on the color and the meaning of water?
AN: Yes, but also the idea of water, the idea of its various forms of steam, and ice, and sublimation, and then fire, when she’s sword making, and the fire that’s within her. We just used a lot of that element. Those elemental things to describe what’s going on in her and around her.
MF: With a show focused on a samurai, were there any samurai films or shows that inspired certain scenes or fighting styles?
Michael Green: We work with so many wonderful people, all of whom have encyclopedic knowledge. So it was so much fun, everyone bringing their favorite clips, and we would watch them. I’m going to say where I’m going to get to, is we ended up working with Sunny Sun, a fight choreographer who’s one of the greatest stunt choreographers in the world. So it’s really his movies that I want to talk about. He came at this with so much character focus. Jane Wu, our supervising director, also comes from with martial arts background. I mean, we talked about everything from ‘The Good, the Bad and the Ugly’ with the tension of scenes, or ‘Once Upon Time in the West,’ same thing. But in Eastern Films, we talked about the way Zatoichi moves and how he always moves differently from everyone around him. Of course, we looked at Kurosawa‘s compositions.
AN: And then we have a song lifted directly from ‘Kill Bill’. There’s so much greatness to steal from.
MG: We wear our homages on our sleeve and hope the originators notice and go, “Oh yeah.”
MF: Mizu is voiced by Maya Erskine, who audiences know from ‘PEN15’. What has it been like to watch her bring the character of Mizu to life, and how did you know that you found the right actor in Maya?
AN: Maya is such a talented, versatile actor, and you could see in ‘PEN15,’ even though it is a hilarious show, you could see how she brought that kind of raw pain of growing up mixed race and just growing up in general. I actually think that that’s how the character of Maya might envision herself. She might envision herself like Mizu. This might be who she aspires to be. But Maya really was able to bring a lot of that pain into the character of Mizu. I mean, she just did it beyond our expectations.
MF: Finally, the series is the first major animated project you’ve worked on as showrunners, what was the process like? Has it been different than your past projects, and did you approach it differently?
MG: We approached it the same, which might’ve been naive, but that’s good because it ended up working out.
AN: We would’ve been scared away otherwise.
MG: If we knew exactly how hard it was going to be. Some of the ways were very similar. We wrote the script as if it was a live-action piece. We ran our meetings, and mixed it and scored it, and worked with the type of people, with casting directors and costume designers from live action. Suttirat Larlarb did our costumes, worked with her on ‘American Gods’. She’s done everything from Star Wars to Bond, and on and on. Our casting directors work on ‘Star Trek’ and ‘Avatar’. We really just worked with as many live-action people, including Jane Wu, our supervising director and executive producer. But then we met the reality of animation, where we knew we had to learn a lot, where we had to work with people who knew it much better than we ever could, and could teach us and be patient with us, and also just lead us through it. So it was very different. The main difference is how slow animation is. It is for the patient. It’s just the dough needs to rise and you can’t rush it. But you can have anything you want if you’re patient. So it made the show everything we wanted and more.
What Is The Plot Of ‘Blue Eye Samurai?
Set in 17th-century Edo-period Japan, Blue Eye Samurai follows Mizu (Maya Erskine), a mixed-race master of the sword who lives a life in disguise seeking to deliver revenge. In her search for vengeance, she meets Ringo, a soba maker born who longs to be a samurai, Taigen, a pompous samurai, and Princess Akemi, the daughter of Lord Daichi of the Tokunobu clan.
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