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Koji Steven Sakai, Lady Samurai Writer Q&A

So to start off, please introduce yourself and share some of your career moments that you’re most proud of.


Koji: I’ve written 12 feature films and served as a producer on 9 films. My recent projects include a film on Hulu called “Ruthless”, starring Dermot Mulroney, and another film called “Damaged” starring Samuel Jackson. I also was a staff writer on a Hulu show called “House of the Owl”. But one of the favorite things I do is a podcast called, “Unofficial Official Story” where we look at the weird things in the world and make up our own stories about what happened.


Now as it relates to Lady Samurai, what attracted you to this project and what excites you most about it?


Koji: I have always loved samurais and samurai culture. There is something so elegant and beautiful about it. As a kid, I practiced a martial art called Kendo, which is the martial art that samurais used to train to fight with swords. I did it for almost twenty years and ended up as a black belt. My time doing that made me really appreciate how elegant and dangerous fighting with swords really is. 


Is there any aspect of Lady Samurai or the history around Tomoe Gozen that you can’t wait to see represented on screen?


Koji: I can’t wait to see Tomoe fighting on screen. She’s one of the most badass fighters of all time and to see her taking on some of the greatest warriors of all time is something I look forward to seeing. 


You’ve mentioned your appreciation for samurai culture and lore, and even made a comic book about another famous samurai, Yasuke, an African samurai. Between Tomoe and Yasuke, there’s a pattern here around you choosing characters that are outside the conventional understanding of who can be a samurai. Could you elaborate on why these characters inspire you to the point or developing projects around them?


Being a fourth-generation Japanese American, I have sometimes felt like an outsider in Japan – despite the fact that my mother is from there. I often see the country as a place that is familiar but also foreign, a place that I am drawn to but also a place that I don’t necessarily belong to. Because of all that, I have always been drawn to outsiders in Japan and their stories.


Given your experience, what challenges or opportunities do you see when creating a film project about a historical figure?


Koji: One of the challenges with telling any story about a true person is trying to tell a story that is historically accurate. The good thing about Tomoe is that there just isn’t a lot about her, so I was able to use my imagination to fill in the details. That takes a lot of the pressure off of me. 🙂 


How did you first learn about Tomoe Gozen and what aspects of her life or story made you realize you needed to develop a film about her?


Koji: I learned about Tomoe Gozen while watching a YouTube video about the toughest women warriors in history. I had never heard of Tomoe before that video, which led me down a rabbit hole into her life.


What are your hopes or aspirations for how Lady Samurai is received by audiences? Any lessons you hope they take from her story?


Koji: I would love to see Lady Samurai inspire a new generation of girls and boys—maybe in the same way I was inspired to learn about sword fighting from Luke Skywalker! 


If there’s anything I missed or anything you’d like to add, please do so here:

Koji: One of the things that isn’t mentioned a lot about this story is that it’s really a love story. But it’s not your traditional love story. It’s Tomoe learning to love herself! If I had a daughter, this is the kind of story I would not want her to watch–rather than a princess story about a girl who gets rescued by the prince!