Review: Blue Eye Samurai
Screen reviews by Christopher Gist
“Kill Bill meets Yentl”, says co-creator Amber Noizumi
This one is a winner. One of a number of notable animated series of late, Netflix’s Blue Eye Samurai follows an outcast young woman, Mizu, during 17th century Japan as she mercilessly tracks one of the four men she believes could be her father. Mizu is a pariah due to her mixed heritage: a European father with a Japanese mother in a period of Japanese Sakoku isolationism*, and this near-complete rejection of her since birth forges in her a spirit impervious to pain and distraction. To cloak her vulnerabilities, she masquerades as a swordsman, with cool, steam-punkish sunglasses designed to hide her tell-tale blue eyes. They do little, of course, to veil her stare of pure middle-child-like rage and resentment, and Mizu is a great modern example of the “victim of undeserved misfortune” character.
The series is beautifully designed and features cast such as Kenneth Branagh and George Takei voicing the distinctive characters. The fight scenes are inventive in their choreography as much as their shot selection and angles. As with other animated series such as Archer, the visuals are a 2D/3D hybrid, situating Blue Eye Samurai’s characters in a sumptuous world of highly detailed Shogunate interiors (note the wallpapers) and richly rendered exteriors.
One of the appeals of these recent animated series is their unflinching storytelling: Mizu’s journey forces her to make a number of moral choices, one of which includes an ambiguously ‘merciful’ killing that few other narratives would give to a hero character (Luc Besson’s Taken comes close when Liam Neeson shoots his erstwhile friend’s wife). While the series is certainly bloody, its themes of equality, loyalty, personal freedoms, and love are imaginatively conveyed with some enjoyable plot reversals. For anyone looking for a fresh rebooting of Samurai excitement, Blue Eye Samurai delivers. Currently screening in Australia on Netflix, with series 2 in the works.
*For more detail, see Ruth Starr’s 2023 article ‘Blue Eye Samurai: historian explains what the Netflix series gets right and wrong about real Edo-period Japan’ in The Conversation.