Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai

Dir: Jim Jarmusch, 1999. Starring: Forest Whitaker, John Torney. Cult.
Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai

A contract killer (Whitaker), who lives his life in accordance with the “Hagakure: The Way of the Samurai,” becomes targeted by his mob bosses after a job goes wrong, leaving a witness behind.

Jim Jarmusch (Broken Flowers, Night on Earth) creates a film unlike any other with Ghost Dog. He manages to blend the coda of Kurisowa’s films about Feudal Japan with the characters and locales of an American mobster movie. In concept it may sound like the potential for a trainwreck, but in the hands of one of the leaders in independent cinema, it makes for truly original filmmaking. Jarmusch does a great job of utilizing this mixture of genres, not relying on cookie-cutter stereotypes, but rather, finding a way to flip everything on its head. The result is colorful characters that exist in a reality that is fresh and not found anywhere else.

Ted Berner’s production design is simple, but very successful in giving an urban landscape some character, making good use of New York City. Robby Muller’s cinematography is not flashy, but always keeps you in the story.

The RZA of Wu-Tang Clan fame provides the score—a rhythmic tempo with good beats that almost works as an anthem for the lead hero. Look for a cameo by RZA as a “Samurai in camouflage” that very ceremonially greets Ghost Dog in passing.

Long time screen presence, Forest Whitaker (Last King of Scotland, The Crying Game) plays “Ghost Dog”—a mysterious recluse who raises pigeons on his rooftop shack of a home. Whitaker, who has run the gamut of characters during his career, hits big with this one. His quiet, introspective attitude mixed with the ability to wield a sword makes for a complex character. Working as an assassin, living by an ancient code, “Ghost Dog” is a man with simple tastes, out of place and time.

John Torney (Stay) plays “Louie”—a low rung mobster who saves Ghost Dog and in turn becomes his “Master” in accordance with Samurai code. Torney is hilariously pathetic as the spineless gangster who looks after the younger assassin. These mobsters are men who have grown old and are losing their once defining power. There is a certain comedic sadness in how desperate these criminals have become—not even able to pay the rent on their hideout at a Chinese restaurant.

As number two in the crime syndicate, Frank Minucci (Carlito’s Way) plays “Big Angie”—a greasy no-nonsense goodfella with a love of classic rap ala “Public Enemy,” but a flat out old-world racist otherwise.

Cliff Gorman (All That Jazz) is hugely entertaining as the humorless ancient crime boss who spends the majority of his time watching old cartoons on television.

Isaach De Bankolé (Casino Royale) turns in a superb performance as “Raymond”—a Frenchman who runs an ice cream truck at the city park. As best friends, he and Ghost Dog have a unique relationship in that neither speaks the other's language, but both seem to completely understand the meaning.

If you are in the mood for a film that defies convention and re-imagines the gangster crime tale, Ghost Dog delievers.

Posted by:
Seamus Smith
Jul 3, 2009 2:27pm
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