Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai (1999)
Director: Jim Jarmusch
Writer: Jim Jarmusch
Stars: Forest Whitaker, Henry Silva, John Tormey
Reviewed By: Adam Griffith
Continuing my ever-expanding journey, in my Adam, late to the game series, I finally watched Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai. Yes I know it came out 13 years ago, and no I do not know why I never saw it previously. Thankfully, I caught this streaming on Netflix and felt inspired to write-up a review.
Ghost Dog (Whitaker) is a hit man in New Jersey. He conducts hits for the for his mafia boss, in a freelance capacity. Ghost Dog is portrayed as a competent professional in these opening scenes. The shots, sort of called to mind the opening of the Michael Mann film Thief. Well that is if you added an amazing hip-hop sound track by RZA from Wu-Tang Clan.
This is a highly stylized film from writer/director Jarmusch. The samurai gun play alone will have you on the edge of your seat. While the pacing of the film is a bit slow, there are scenes of quick intense action, sprinkled throughout. In addition, just below the surface, there is a strong undercurrent of dark, dark humor in this character driven tale. Jarmusch also jams this film to the brim with philosophy, thoughts on the clashing of cultures, the role of honor in society, and many other things, that I am sure I missed on the first viewing.
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the film is Ghost Dog’s embracing of “Hagakure” The Way of the Samurai, in his daily life and in his work. As Ghost Dog reads and quotes from the code, the viewer learns about both the code and its applications to modern-day living. The concept of men living by an ancient code, despite the modern world rushing around them, filled with unhonorable individuals, is fascinating to watch. In this way its easy to compare this film to some classic westerns.
Forrest Whitaker gives a very impressive performance as Ghost Dog. He manages to play an Anti-hero, that you can’t resist rooting for, despite his violent and illegal occupation. He accomplishes this with a subdued and subtle performance, as he interprets and practices the Hagakure. Whitaker is an example of perfect casting, and really nailed this role as a giant, hip-hop listening, pigeon loving, samurai code living, hit man warrior.
If you are a fan of movies, filled with a cast of quirky and unique characters, then you should watch this film. If you enjoy films with a philosophical message, that at the same time present the world, as a dark comedy, then you should watch this film. If you like classic westerns, samurai, or gangster movies you should watch this film. If you are a fan of arty indepedent films then you should watch this film.
As you can probably tell from my suggestions above, of people who would enjoy watching Ghost Dog: Way of the Samurai, I really enjoyed this movie. It certainly left me with the film spinning around in my dome, and wanting to discuss the picture after watching it. I realize, I probably missed about half of what was going on in this film, and will certainly need to re watch it to catch things I may have missed. For instance what is going on with all the mafia guys watching cartoons? You could probably write-up a whole post on that subject alone. Ghost Dog: The way of the Samuari is that kind of movie, one of my favorite kinds, one that makes you think. I am giving Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai two and a half carrier pigeons.