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It helps to understand that the hero of "Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai" is crazy. Well, of course he is. He lives in a shack on a rooftop with his pigeons. He dresses like a homeless man. "He has no friends and never talks to anybody," according to the mother of the little girl in the movie. Actually, he does talk: to the little girl and to a Haitian ice cream man. The Haitian speaks no English and Ghost Dog speaks no French, so they simply speak in their own languages and are satisfied with that. What's your diagnosis? Ghost Dog ( Forest Whitaker ) is a killer for the mob. He got into this business because one day a mobster saved his life--and so, since he follows The Way of the Samurai, he must dedicate his life to his master. The mobster is named Louie ( John Tormey ). He orders hits by sending Ghost Dog messages by carrier pigeon. Ghost Dog insists on being paid once a year, on the first day of autumn. When the mob bosses want Ghost Dog rubbed out, they're startled to discover that Louie doesn't know his name or where he lives; their only contact is the pigeons.
It seems strange that a black man would devote his life to doing hired killing for a group of Italian-American gangsters after having met only one of them. But then it's strange, too, that Ghost Dog lives like a medieval Japanese samurai. The whole story is so strange, indeed, that I've read some of the other reviews in disbelief. Are movie critics so hammered by absurd plots that they can't see how truly, profoundly weird "Ghost Dog" is? The reviews treat it matter of factly: Yeah, here's this hit man, he lives like a samurai, he gets his instructions by pigeon, blah . . . blah . . . and then they start talking about the performances and how the director, Jim Jarmusch , is paying homage to Kurosawa and "High Noon." But the man is insane! In a quiet, sweet way, he is totally unhinged and has lost all touch with reality. His profound sadness, which permeates the touching Whitaker performance, comes from his alienation from human society, his loneliness, his attempt to justify inhuman behavior (murder) with a belief system (the samurai code) that has no connection with his life or his world. Despite the years he's spent studying The Way of the Samurai , he doesn't even reflect that since his master doesn't subscribe to it, their relationship is meaningless.
I make this argument because I've seen "Ghost Dog" twice, and admired it more after I focused on the hero's insanity. The first time I saw it, at Cannes, I thought it was a little too precious, an exercise in ironic style, not substance. But look more deeply, and you see the self-destructive impulse that guides Ghost Dog in the closing scenes, as he sadly marches forth to practice his code in the face of people who only want to kill him (whether he survives is not the point).
Jarmusch is mixing styles here almost recklessly and I like the chances he takes. The gangsters (played by colorful character actors like Henry Silva , Richard Portnow , Cliff Gorman and Victor Argo ) sit in their clubhouse doing sub-Scorsese while the Louie character tries to explain to them how he uses an invisible hit man. Ghost Dog, meanwhile, mopes sadly around the neighborhood, solemnly recommending Rashomon to a little girl ("you may want to wait and read it when you're a little older") and miscommunicating with the ice cream man. By the end, Whitaker's character has generated true poignance.
If the mobsters are on one level of reality and Ghost Dog on another, then how do we interpret some of the Dog's killings, particularly the one where he shoots a man by sneaking under his house and firing up through the lavatory pipe while the guy is shaving? This is a murder that demands Inspector Clouseau as its investigator. Jarmusch seems to have directed with his tongue in his cheek, his hand over his heart, and his head in the clouds. The result is weirdly intriguing.
Roger Ebert was the film critic of the Chicago Sun-Times from 1967 until his death in 2013. In 1975, he won the Pulitzer Prize for distinguished criticism.
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Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai (2000)
Rated R For Strong Violence and Language
Forest Whitaker as Ghost Dog
Henry Silva as Ray Vargo
Tricia Vessey as Louise Vargo
John Tormey as Louie
Written and Directed by
- Jim Jarmusch
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Ghost dog: the way of the samurai.
1999 Directed by Jim Jarmusch
All assassins live beyond the law … only one follows the code
An African-American Mafia hit man who models himself after the samurai of old finds himself targeted for death by the mob.
Forest Whitaker John Tormey Cliff Gorman Henry Silva Isaach De Bankolé Camille Winbush Victor Argo Gene Ruffini Richard Portnow Tricia Vessey Vinny Vella Joseph Rigano Frank Minucci Vince Viverito Frank Adonis Damon Whitaker Dennis Liu Kenny Guay Gano Grills Touché Cornel Jamie Hector Chuck Jeffreys Roberto Lopez Salvatore Alagna Jerry Todisco Dreddy Kruger Timbo King Clay, Da, Raider Dead and Stinking Show All… Deflon Sallahr Gary Farmer Clebert Ford José Rabelo Jerry Sturiano Tony Rigo Alfred Nittoli Angel Caban Luz Valentin Renee Bluestone Jordan Peck Jonathan Teague Cook Tracy Howe Vanessa Hollingshead Sharon Angela Yan Ming Shi RZA
Assistant Directors Asst. Directors
Jude Gorjanc Cindy Craig
Jim Jarmusch Richard Guay Diana Schmidt
Ellen Lewis Laura Rosenthal
Camera Operators Camera Operators
Rick Raphael Chaim Kantor
Christopher Porter Mark Schwentner
Production Design Production Design
Art direction art direction.
Set Decoration Set Decoration
Ron von Blomberg
Special Effects Special Effects
Visual Effects Visual Effects
John Furniotis Don Nolan
Anthony J. Ciccolini III Drew Kunin Dominick Tavella Daniel Pagan
Costume Design Costume Design
Neal Martz Todd Kleitsch Judy Chin
Bac Films Canal+ JVC Pandora Film ARD Degeto ARD Plywood Productions
France Germany Japan USA
Releases by Date
19 may 1999, 13 sep 1999, 06 oct 1999, 11 nov 1999, 27 nov 1999, 05 jan 2000, 14 jan 2000, 03 mar 2000, 27 apr 2000, 25 may 2000, 07 sep 2000, 08 dec 2000, 07 jul 2022, 17 aug 2023, 31 may 2017, 28 feb 2022, 16 feb 2010, releases by country.
- Theatrical MA 15+
- Theatrical 14A
- Premiere Cannes Film Festival
- Theatrical TP
- Physical DVD
- Physical Blu-Ray
- Digital VOD
- Digital Prime Video
- Theatrical 16
- Theatrical 16 4K restauratie
- Theatrical 12
- Theatrical 15
- Theatrical R
116 mins More at IMDb TMDb Report this page
Review by Karst ★★★★½
jim jarmusch’s most action packed movie and it’s still a mostly chill time
Review by Todd Gaines ★★★★ 3
The Last King of Scotland as Ghost Dog. A hip-hop listening, bird loving, samurai assassin who goes to war with the mob after a routine hit goes to shit. Words of samurai wisdom. Old school messaging. A French ice cream man. A pigeon massacre. A mob guy who knows his gangsta rap. Henry Silva's blank stare. Hunting bears out of season and paying the price. A wise hound. Getting shot in the exact same place twice. Watching one too many cartoons. Looking down the wrong sink. An epic final shootout. The RZA's Wu-Tang heavy score. Jim Jarmusch directs a modern day samurai classic.
Review by Florin Scanlon ★★★★★ 18
What follows is me beating about the bush so for a clearer representation of what I think of this movie, skip to the last line.
Strange movie. It's directed by Jim Jarmusch after all. And it's awesome. Like, extremely awesome. And strange. Like, really strange. At a first look it seems like a cheap student movie made for cheap that looks cheap and is cheap in its reason for existing. But that's a very early and uninformed first look. Once Forest Whitaker as Ghost Dog inserts a cd into a freshly stolen car's player early into the movie and this song starts playing you realize that this is no ordinary movie. You begin to realize this is an awesome movie.…
Review by Sethsreviews ★★★★½ 12
Meditative, philosophical in nature, and perhaps the coolest film of all time, I don't know. Wow. A clear study in code differences, combining samurai and modern-day mob society codes. Features a great blend of a brilliant lo-fi soundtrack, electrifying shooting sequences, and a fantastic Forest Whitaker performance at the helm. What a picture.
Review by Josh Lewis ★★★★ 2
“Matters of great concern should be treated lightly. Matters of small concern should be treated seriously."
Maintaining the old ways even in the face of extinction and seeing the world as a dream. Meditative and mystical (and like all Jarmusch filled to the brim with wonderfully weird digressions and bursts of personality) but also the kind of movie where the guy whips his pistols out John Woo style and swings them around like a katana, full whoosh sound effects and all.
Review by comrade_yui ★★★★★ 9
instant favorite. resonates with everything i've ever thought, the core of my very being, the depths of my soul. it's like looking into a pane of glass; reflecting myself, while also perceiving the world around me. there is no difference. we are all journeying together, each having her own path. in the end, there is nothing to be said, save for the motion of a life lived. ghost dog is the Way of ways; the eternal present moment.
Review by matt lynch ★★★½
"Me and him, we're from different ancient tribes, and now we're both almost extinct. But sometimes you gotta stick with the ancient ways, the old school ways. I know you understand me."
that pretty much sums it up, not that i'm complaining. a DEAD MAN B-side, and probably Jarmusch's most accessible film. plus it uses an "Itchy & Scratchy" cartoon as an extra thematic button at the end.
Review by PopcornIdeology ★★★★★ 4
INJECT THIS FUCKING MOVIE INTO MY VEINSSSS, POUR IT INTO A SHOT GLASS AND LET ME CHUG IT, CRUSH IT INTO A POWDER AND LET ME SNORT IT, PUT IT IN ME ASAP RASHOMON 10
Review by theriverjordan ★★★★½ 29
“Ghost Dog Way of the Samurai” is a testament to intertexuality as a means for survival. And also for the construction of a necessary, self-made end.
Jim Jarmusch’s film, about a New York mob hitman who sees himself as a legendary Japanese warrior, wears its primary inspiration in its title; Jean-Pierre Melville’s “Le Samouraï” (male directors, I’m begging you to please see another movie). While many have tried to varying success to make an entire film out of an homage to that classic of French cool, Jarmusch distinguishes “Ghost Dog” for how it is also an allusion to so much else.
Jarmusch isn’t just throwing in references to his favorite pieces of art for self-gratification. Each allusion becomes an artistic…
Review by Kylito ⚯͛ ★★★★★ 4
You thought killing John Wicks's dog was a crazy move? Wait until you mess with Ghost Dog’s pigeons LMAO.
Review by CinemaVoid 🏴☠️ ★★★★ 2
He was a stoic urban samurai professional hitman who loved pigeons. He was an Italian mobster who watched old cartoons and dropped mad bars. Together, they shared only one thing in common: a fucking quirky code of honor.
Review by Justin Peterson ★★★★ 4
Criterion Collection Spine #1057
Director Jim Jarmusch's stylistic tribute to the Samurai genre, which paints a portrait of a badass urban warrior complete with Zen ideology, and a surprising flair of humor.
'If a warrior's head were to be suddenly cut off, he should still be able to perform one more action with certainty ... What the fuck does that mean? ... It's poetry. The poetry of war."
I first checked out Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai when my movie-loving uncle recommended it as a cool stealth assassin flick. And this was long before I became familiar with the classic international cinema it was inspired by. The main influence being Jean-Pierre Melville's 'Le Samouraï', which I was not…
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Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai
- An African-American Mafia hit man who models himself after the samurai of old finds himself targeted for death by the mob.
- A hitman who lives by the code of the samurai, works for the mafia and finds himself in their crosshairs when his recent job doesn't go according to plan. Now he must find a way to defend himself and his honor while retaining the code he lives by. — Scott Jarreau
- This is a story not about the mob or the mafia or a black hit man per se. They are contexts for a much deeper morality. The story is about the contrast of good and evil. The evil is the master and the good is the servant. The servant honors the master, thus the good serves the evil. Yet this paradox is resolved by the ultimate sacrifice the good endures to redeem the evil. Simple to see, but deserves contemplation.
- In the spirit of the samurai, imbued with the ancient wisdom of the Hagakure, stealthy and taciturn Ghost Dog, a masterful contract killer who is at the top of his game, has pledged his loyalty to Louie, a middle-ranking mobster who had once saved his life. However, after an unforeseen complication during a mission, the local mafia boss, Vargo, and his associate, Sonny Valerio, decide that Ghost Dog has become a liability to the crime syndicate and order his execution. Now, as the dead bodies start piling up, the hunted hitman must make the most crucial decision of his career. Will he stay faithful to his master and the way of the samurai to the bitter end? — Nick Riganas
- Ghost Dog (Whitaker) lives alone - except for his friendly homing pigeons - on a rooftop in New York, a self made, modern Samurai warrior who has attached himself to a master in the form of a middle ranking gangster (Tormey) who once saved his life in an alley brawl. Ghost Dog lives strictly by the Samurai code, even when his life is in danger, such as when Mr Vargo (Silva) demands Ghost Dog's execution with the help of Ghost Dog's own master.
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GHOST DOG: THE WAY OF THE SAMURAI
- Post author: eenableadmin
- Post published: August 5, 2019
- Post category: Uncategorized
(director/writer: Jim Jarmusch; cinematographer: Robby Muller; editor: Jay Rabinowitz; cast: Forest Whitaker (Ghost Dog), John Tormey (Louie), Camille Winbush (Pearline), Cliff Gorman (Sonny Valerio), Frank Minucci (Big Angie), Isaach Bankole (Raymond, Haitian Ice Cream Man), Victor Argo (Vinny), Damon Whitaker (Young Ghost Dog), Henry Silva (The Big Boss, Vargo), Tricia Vessey (Louise Vargo), Gene Ruffini (Old Consigliere), Richard Portnow (Handsome Frank), Gary Farmer (Indian); Runtime: 116; Artisan Entertainment; 1999-France/USA) “It just might be one of those intriguing films that requires an acquired taste and once acquired, leaves no doubt about how good it is.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Ghost Dog is the seventh feature film of arguably America’s most innovative and most underrated director, Jim Jarmusch. I consider it a shame that one of America’s best directors had to get European backers for this film and still receives a better reception abroad than he does in his own country. He has created an almost masterpiece about the influence an ancient way of life has for a black man wrestling with his present cultural environment by meditating every day on the meaning of death, by considering himself a dead man. He has become a hit man so he could honor the samurai code by respecting solely a small time middle-aged Italian Mafia soldier, Louie (John Tormey), who saved his life eight years ago when two white ruffians were going to kill him. The Ghost Dog is a huge black man (Forest Whitaker) prone to wearing a hooded sweatshirt who lives in the inner city streets of Jersey City, on a rooftop shack, where he maintains a carrier pigeon coop and spends his time alone in silence like a monk, studying an 18th century book Hagakure: The Book of the Samurai by Yamamoto Tsunetomo. The excerpts from the text appear periodically on the screen, to be read out loud by him to explain the scene that is to follow according to the way an ancient warrior steeped in Buddhist lore might see it.
Ghost Dog gets his assignments only via carrier pigeon from Louie and follows the exact orders issued. Here, he is asked to hit a made gangster called Handsome Frank (Richard Portnow) who has been fooling around with the crime boss’s mentally disturbed daughter, Louise Vargo (Tricia Vessey). When Ghost Dog goes to the job he plays rap music on the car CD to keep alert and when there he quietly enters the apartment expecting to see only the intended victim, as the girlfriend he was told would be put on a bus. But the crime boss’s daughter has returned and lounges on a chair, having just finished reading a translation of Ryunosuke Akutagawa’s Rashomon and then tossing it on the floor. She is dressed in a red negligee and has a Betty Boop hair-do. Handsome Frank is watching a Betty Boop cartoon on TV, as Ghost Dog takes aim and fires away. After the killing, Louise indifferently asks, “If he was sent by her father,” as Ghost Dog reacts silently to her presence. She then says in a low voice, “You can have it. I’m finished with it.” He quickly takes the book and withdraws.
The Mafia chieftains, all geriatrics, meet in the back of a Chinese take-out restaurant, which they use as their clubhouse. They are so unsuccessful in what they do, that they have trouble making the rent payments for this dump. They sit around a table and tell the slobbish-looking Louie and his underling Vinny (Victor Argo) that they are disturbed with the hit because the girl was present. A secondary boss, who distinguishes himself as a lover of rap music, Sonny (Cliff Gorman), then orders Louie to murder Ghost Dog telling him that Handsome Frank was one of us. When Louie flinches, he says it is better than if we murder you. The crime boss (Henry Silva) looks as if he could be brain dead as he impassively asks who the hit man was in a particularly monotone voice. When they find out that Louie doesn’t know his real name or where he lives, that he pays him for the hits once a year on the first day of the autumn and that the only contact is by carrier pigeon; and, on top of that, he’s a black man, there is a sigh of disappointment. This becomes too much for the fragile elderly consigliere (Gene Ruffini) to hear as he utters his first words on the screen in a machine-like unnatural voice, by making vulgar remarks about the hit man’s race; the meeting breaks up with a plan to get Ghost Dog. There is comedy here in the absurdity of the situation even though no one cracks a joke. It doesn’t make sense that these Mafia bosses want to kill their contract killer, especially since it was an untraceable hit. But one of the points of the story is that things don’t necessarily make sense, they just happen.
The most innocent encounter Ghost Dog has occurs on a park bench where a young black schoolgirl, Pearline (Camille Winbush), strikes up a conversation as she recognizes him as an odd character who lives in the neighborhood. They get around to talking about books, as she takes out her bookbag and shows him she is reading Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Both agree the book is better than the movie. Reading books is readily accepted by both parties as something that is cool. Ghost Dog lays Rashomon on her saying he just finished reading it and only asks that when she finishes, she should let him know what she thinks of it. When the girl says to him that everyone says he has no friends he takes her to meet his friend the black Haitian ice cream vendor (Isaach de Bankole), who speaks only in French a language Ghost Dog doesn’t speak; but, even though they can’t understand the other’s language, he explains to her that they are still best friends and they are still able to communicate with each other. The assumption is that they both have soul and can talk the black man’s rap. The girl and the Haitian show their true human feelings toward the samurai warrior and seem to understand something about him that is vital without being able to comprehend him.
Ghost Dog prepares for all-out warfare from the mob, with the idea Louie must be protected at all times because of the samurai code. He sends the big boss a bewildering quotation from the Hagakure via pigeon about beheading and the boss is the only one of the aging Mafia present in the room to respond by saying, “It’s poetry—the poetry of war.”
The most artificial scene comes after Ghost Dog finishes picking off the mobsters in their country hideaway. Ghost Dog is driving home when he spots on a country road a pair of redneck camouflaged hunters with darkened faces (reminding him of those white actors in vaudeville who used to put on a blackface). They have just shot a black bear for no reason except to kill it. It seems odd that Ghost Dog after his wholesale butchery can take the high moral ground and think that he has the right to take the law into his own hands against these wayward hunters and execute them, even if he equates them with racists. From his discussions with his Haitian friend, he has a shared belief that bears in ancient civilizations were considered equal to humans and therefore what the hunters did was tantamount to a crime.
The film is much influenced by Jean-Pierre Melville’s stylized 1967 gangster masterpiece Le Samurai which also quotes from an ancient Japanese ideology that influenced its hero, though in Melville’s film the Book of Bushido is a fictional work. Ghost Dog remains for the most part a parody of other movie characters. The film is influenced by the gangster film genres, plus the Japanese, black, and Italian cultures, the present pop culture, the African-American who had to reinvent himself in the American cities and how an unheralded Italian-American mobster and an unheralded black samurai of “different ancient tribes” can act with mutual respect for each other despite their differences.
The film is slow-paced due to the stoppage needed to read from the excerpts from the Hagakure texts by Whitaker. Its rhythm is further broken up by attempts to link pop culture, rap music, cartoons, and the ugliness of the city streets with the lessons that can be passed on from a different time that must be reinvented to fit every new generation. The movie uses the hip-hop music of RZA (pronounced RIZZ-ah) that fits coolly into the nighttime moods of the depressed city and gives the monk-like samurai who listens to the music on the radio’s CD, a strange trance-like look of recognition that he is hip to what is going down around him. It is a movie that is mostly invigorated by Forest Whitaker’s stunning performance as someone who lives by myth alone, whose most memorable statement is: “The end is important in all things.”
The most glaring error Ghost Dog makes, is in his strictly literal interpretation of what he is supposed to do as a samurai warrior. He in error takes the message from the book to mean that he must become subservient to someone who doesn’t respect what he believes in. Buddhism specifically states that no killing is justified, so he seems to have taken the wrong course of action in this lifetime despite his belief that he got everything together by reading the book. Ghost Dog would have saved himself a lot of trouble by putting his energy into helping his new-found Mafia friend in other ways than by reinforcing his already bad karma. That would have been the true way of a samurai warrior. It seems he’s someone living so cut off from human contact and without the benefit of a living samurai teacher, that he has no one to help him when he errs.
Jarmusch has in all his films displayed an interest of seeing how another culture looks at the American culture, having already shown how Hungarians, Native Americans, and Japanese react to seeing America. It now seems to be the turn of the black man; this film is basically about the Forest Whitaker character making peace with who he is and showing that to be an American, it takes more than one culture to influence you. We have seen the Mafia men absorbed by cartoons or rap music or poetry, or the director himself influenced to be a so-called “hip” White Negro. For Jarmusch, America is an exotic place where different cultures uniquely flourish in the most unexpected spots.
The film’s shining points come from the moving cinematography of Robby Muller, the minimalist mise-en-scène, the underlying humor, and the freshness of Jarmusch’s approach to filmmaking, proving that he is someone willing to take chances. There are critics who constantly rave about less cutting-edge films more than they do about ones that are not afraid to mess with set concepts. For this film, they offer mostly faint and lefthanded praises. I’ll take my chances with heaping praise on a Jarmusch edgy film that is slightly flawed, over so many other forgettable praiseworthy hits that are so limited in scope.
Jarmusch’s first language is poetry and it is my belief that this film is as close to a lyrical masterpiece as a film can be without necessarily being one. Its weakest point being a lack of character development for the Mafia figures. The Mafia characters were more cartoonish than real, they seemed to be created to fit a certain standard mold rather than to be developed out of their own personalities. But that flaw was also what drove the film comically, therefore making that weakness more palatable and understandable.
This film is similar in mood to Jarmusch’s other ambitious work, which was a masterpiece, “Dead Man.” It is one that makes many fine points to justify its wide range of themes. It is foolish to try and tightly categorize it except to say that even though it is not exactly a mainstream film, neither is it primarily an art-house film. It just might be one of those intriguing films that requires an acquired taste and once acquired, leaves no doubt about how good it is.
REVIEWED ON 5/10/2000 GRADE: A
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Why Jim Jarmusch’s “Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai” Endures as an Unlikely Classic
An unconventional leading man. a revolutionary score. a cross-cultural triumph..
Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai (IMDB)
All filmmakers reflect the world around them, but few have captured the zeitgeist like director Jim Jarmusch, a soft-spoken New York transplant from Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, with the philosophy, “Life has no plot, why must films or fiction?”
The cult hero status accrued by Jarmusch is born from his keen social observations, even when it’s sometimes difficult to decipher what he’s trying to say. That’s particularly true of Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai (1999), his urban samurai mob movie classic, which plays at the Hollywood Theatre on Feb. 25.
A film that fascinated movie fans by viewing subcultures through a surreal lens, Ghost Dog ’s seemingly accidental success is arguably due to its groundbreaking score (by RZA) and leading man (Forest Whitaker). “You see, I start with actors that I want to make a character for,” Jarmusch said in a 2011 interview with Louder Than War. “I don’t know what the story is or where it’s going at all. I just sort of jump in and start. In fact, I think I do it backwards.”
Ghost Dog was the product of a chance encounter between Whitaker and Jarmusch at a Super 8 camera store. And Jarmusch didn’t just hire an actor most filmmakers would have scoffed at for such a role: He specifically made the role for him.
Together, the pair concocted a character we’re compelled to root for despite the moral ambiguity and brutality of his job. A hit man with a samurai’s code, the protagonist known only as “Ghost Dog” has a sense of purpose that’s somehow inspiring. And then there’s Whitaker himself, whose portrayal seers the consciousness with little dialogue.
“There’s something about Forest that goes right to my heart,” Jarmusch said in a behind-the-scenes documentary. “There’s something very human and beautiful about his presence.”
Ghost Dog was big in the Black community due to a familiar Afro-Asian cultural theme born from East Coast summer scorchers driving urban Black youths of the ‘70s into air-conditioned grindhouse theaters for double-feature combos like Black Caesar and The Five Fingers of Death .
These Blaxploitation and martial arts films had a profound impact on kids seeing nonwhite heroes for the first time. That led to the emergence of the first Black martial arts leading man, the incomparable Jim Kelly, and a generation of young moviegoers raised to see themselves fighting back against The Man through music and movement.
Enter RZA, founding member of the Wu-Tang Clan, whose music was shaped by those theaters and became the sound Jarmusch sought for the atmosphere of Ghost Dog . At the time, RZA just so happened to be looking for a project to score, spurred by a conversation he’d recently had with Quincy Jones (having never scored a film before, he looked to Peter and the Wolf and Sergei Prokofiev for guidance).
In Ghost Dog , we witness the protagonist’s unyielding loyalty to a feckless gangster (John Tormey) from a crew hanging on to relevance during the waning days of the Italian Mafia. “If one were to say in a word what the condition of being a samurai is, it’s basis lies first in seriously devoting one’s body and soul to his master,” Whitaker narrates from Hagakure: The Book of the Samurai by Yamamoto Tsunetomo.
Jarmusch compared Ghost Dog’s sense of devotion to that of Don Quixote, but it all boils down to finding security in a sense of purpose. In a rapidly changing world that rarely makes sense, it’s a comfort knowing someone like Jarmusch is still diving headfirst into the randomness we struggle to make sense of and taking notes.
The film speaks to so many of us. And like the Ghost Dog’s French-speaking Haitian-immigrant best friend (Isaach de Bankolé), we may not always know what’s being said, but we understand.
SEE IT: Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai , rated R, plays at the Hollywood Theatre, 503-493-1128, hollywoodtheatre.org. 7 pm Saturday, Feb. 25. $8-$10.
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March 3, 2000 FILM REVIEW `Ghost Dog': Passions of Emptiness in an Essay on Brutality Related Articles The New York Times on the Web: Current Film Video Trailer and Selected Scenes From the Film 'Ghost Dog' Forum Join a Discussion on Current Film By A. O. SCOTT n "Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai," Jim Jarmusch tries to do to the samurai epic and the gangster movie what he did to the western in "Dead Man" (1997), his dreamy, elegiac deconstruction of cowboys-and-Indians mythology. Like a postmodern magpie, Mr. Jarmusch likes to scavenge shiny bits of pop-culture flotsam -- mobsters in their sharkskin suits, gaudy cartoon animals, sleek imported luxury cars, iridescent CD's -- and weave them into quirky, ramshackle habitations. Here he is aided immeasurably by the RZA (pronounced RIZZ-ah), one of the hip-hop masterminds behind the Wu-Tang Clan, whose dreamy, collagist approach to sound nicely mirrors Mr. Jarmusch's cool, allusive visual style. Whether the film's use of music will help make it accessible to audiences is an open question. Mr. Jarmusch is an acquired taste, and a lot of people seem to find him unpalatable. For each viewer who revels in the artistry of his slow, disjunctive scenes, his carefully composed frames and his penchant for symbolism, there is another who sees only artiness. But even the most resistant moviegoer may be provoked by "Ghost Dog." Indeed, the best way to appreciate this fascinating but uneven film may be to resist it, to watch it unfold in the persistent, persistently thwarted expectation that it will erupt into the hip-hop Mafia shoot-'em-up it stubbornly refuses to be. There is a lot of violence, but not much action; a plot involving vengeance, jealousy and double-crossing, but not a great deal of suspense. Mr. Jarmusch choreographs his killings with somber stateliness. His blood-drenched climax has an almost ritualistic inevitability, like the end of a Jacobean revenge tragedy or a Kurosawa film. Abbot Genser/Artisan Entertainment Modern-day samurai: Forest Whitaker in Jim Jarmusch's "Ghost Dog." He has composed a ruminative, bittersweet visual essay on brutality, honor and tribalism, which may frustrate audiences expecting hyped-up intensity, fast-paced thrills or a story that makes sense. But frustration can be a stimulus to thought, an aspect of discipline, which is one of the themes of "Ghost Dog." Its subtitle refers to an ancient Japanese warriors' manual called "Hagakure," passages of which fill the screen like intertitles in a silent movie and which also come to us in the gruff, sad voice of Forest Whitaker. Mr. Whitaker plays the title character, a modern-day samurai pledged to serve a master named Louie (John Tormey), a Mafia soldier in a decrepit, nameless American city. Louie's bosses are a wheezing klatch of capos and consiglieres, compared to whom William Hickey's geriatric don in "Prizzi's Honor" looks as vigorous and decisive as the young Vito Corleone in "The Godfather, Part II." These wasted, diminished figures -- call them the Mezzo-Sopranos -- can barely make the rent on their ratty private club. They don't seem to be involved in any illegal business or much of anything besides deciding whom to kill next. Almost by default -- he has carried out a hit in the presence of the chief mobster's daughter -- they decide to kill Ghost Dog. Ghost Dog's world is an abstract, allegorical place, where cars have license plates from "The Industrial State" and "The Highway State." From "Hagakure," the film quotes the standard Buddhist teaching "form is emptiness; emptiness is form," and Mr. Jarmusch sometimes seems intent on demonstrating the truth of this observation. He is rescued from his worst impulses largely by the RZA's score and by Mr. Whitaker's witty, moving performance. Mr. Jarmusch has told interviewers that he conceived the character Ghost Dog with Mr. Whitaker in mind, and it's hard to think of another actor who could play a cold-blooded killer with such warmth and humanity, or who could manage to be at once a mythic hero and a lonely young man with only books, music and pigeons for company. Ghost Dog also finds some human companionship. His entanglement with the mobsters is paralleled by his blossoming friendship with a young girl, Pearline (Camille Winbush), and a French-speaking ice-cream salesman, Raymond (Isaach de Bankole). The meandering back-and-forth between these characters lends the movie some of the low-key, absurdist humor that animated Mr. Jarmusch's first two features, "Stranger Than Paradise" and "Down by Law." It will not have escaped your attention that Ghost Dog is a black man who refers (and, at great cost, defers) to a white master and who is pursued by a mob because of his improper attention to a white woman. The revenge plot may be rooted in samurai legend, but Mr. Jarmusch also clearly intends for us to pick up a more disturbing and less exotic resonance. "Ghost Dog" is about race relations much in the way that "Dead Man" was about the genocidal dispossession of the Indians in the 19th century: unmistakably, but also obliquely. What are we to make of a middle-aged Mafioso doing a spastic Dean Martin shuffle in front of his bathroom mirror while he raps along with Public Enemy's "Cold Lampin' With Flavor"? Or Ghost Dog's violent encounter with two white hunters in camouflage war paint that looks a lot like blackface? Images like these feel like the fever dreams of a culture obsessed with racial distinctions yet unable to think clearly about what race is or even to decide whether it is real. This movie seems to suffer from a similar indecision about itself. "Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai," has been rated R (Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian). It is drenched in blood and saturated with ambiguity. GHOST DOG: THE WAY OF THE SAMURAI Written and directed by Jim Jarmusch; director of photography, Robby Muller; edited by Jay Rabinowitz; music by the RZA; production designer, Ted Berner; produced by Richard Guay; released by cobiArtisan Entertainmentcoei. Running time: 116 minutes. This film is rated R. WITH: Forest Whitaker (Ghost Dog), John Tormey (Louie), Camille Winbush (Pearline), Cliff Gorman (Sonny Valerio), Frank Minucci (Big Angie), Isaach de Bankole (Raymond), Victor Argo (Vinny) and Damon Whitaker (Young Ghost Dog). Showtimes and tickets from 777-FILM Online
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Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai Reviews
It almost feels like we’re in another world: Jarmusch [blurs] out everything else so the movie becomes a meditation on the impulse to moralize one’s misdoings by subscribing to rigid definitions of “honor.” [...] A bone-deep reflective masterpiece.
Full Review | Nov 25, 2023
what might sound like an ordinary gangster picture is in fact a rich amalgam of crisscrossing genres, where East meets West and culture itself follows more than one Way.
Full Review | Nov 17, 2023
Jarmusch mixes the two styles for a very street-level appeal...
Full Review | Mar 2, 2023
The film's calculated weirdness can't redeem a stale story.
Full Review | May 27, 2022
Ghost Dog is one of Jim Jarmusch's coolest features in an oeuvre featuring some of the slickest characters ever. We may not need to understand everything we see, but that's exactly the point.
Full Review | Jul 27, 2021
Another Jim Jarmusch title, another opportunity to add some eccentric twists to a fairly ordinary story.
Full Review | Original Score: 3/4 | Nov 27, 2020
Freely mixes and matches Bushido philosophy, Mafia and samurai flicks, Ryunosuke Akutagawa, and lo-fi hip-hop into a sly and dreamy comedy about role-playing.
Full Review | Original Score: 8/10 | Nov 24, 2020
Ghost Dog has retained all of the cool, the quirk, the profundity it captured in a bottle in 1999... One gets the sense that never before Ghost Dog could this film have been possible, and, never since.
Full Review | Nov 21, 2020
The film is a rare oddity in that is very much of its period, yet is absolutely timeless. It's not just that the poetry Jarmusch pulls from Hagakure ... it's that the film constantly creates a simultaneous sense of something ending and beginning.
Full Review | Original Score: 4.5/5 | Nov 11, 2020
You don't have to "get" Ghost Dog to enjoy it; it's an experience more open to interpretation.
Full Review | Jan 18, 2020
Even when aware of all the strange, disparate elements, it still surprises.
Full Review | Aug 25, 2018
Jarmusch's original film, which deconstructs the mobster genre as seen through the eyes of a Samurai, is by turn eccentric, mysterious, and mythical, defying viewers expectations
Full Review | Original Score: B | Feb 3, 2011
Full Review | Original Score: 4/5 | Aug 7, 2008
One of the coolest movies to come down the pike in years.
Full Review | Original Score: A+ | Feb 13, 2008
At once a tribute to traditional notions of honour, loyalty, friendship and professionalism, and a stylish, ironic pastiche inspired by the likes of Melville and Suzuki, it's very funny, insightful, and highly original.
Full Review | Jun 24, 2006
Jarmusch blends these disparate themes into a cohesive film that combines humor and truly unique characters with Eastern philosophy, mobster flick and shoot-'em-up western.
Full Review | Original Score: B- | Apr 9, 2005
Visually creative film with a remarkable use of color and music.
Full Review | Jan 24, 2005
I can scarcely think of ways to improve this engrossing, original, near-brilliant production.
Full Review | Original Score: B+ | May 22, 2003
Ghost Dog himself is so remote and focused on his path, it's hard to drum up a lot of identification or sympathy.
Full Review | Original Score: 2/4 | May 20, 2003
An act of pure, unadulterated creativity that boasts its narrative gambles and poetic whimsy as badges of honor... One of the most improbably gorgeous films of the year.
Full Review | Original Score: A | Jan 10, 2003
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Blu-ray Review – Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai – “Glorious to behold”
Posted by Phil on Oct 20, 2023 in All , drama , DVD/Blu-ray , Film , Headline , Reviews , thriller | 0 comments
Forest Whitaker as Ghost Dog
Jim Jarmusch’s Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai has had a fantastic 4K restoration and is due out on 4K UHD, Limited Edition UHD Steelbook, Blu-ray, DVD and Digital from 23rd October 2023.
Forest Whitaker (Ghost Dog) lives above the world, alongside a flock of birds, in a homemade shack on the roof of an abandoned building. Guided by the words of an ancient samurai text, Ghost Dog is a professional killer able to dissolve into the night and move through the city unnoticed. When Ghost Dog’s code is dangerously betrayed by the dysfunctional mafia family that occasionally employs him, he reacts strictly in accordance with the Way of the Samurai.
I have always a been a fan of Jarmusch’s films, so when I heard he was making a samurai inspired movie back in the 1990s starring Forest Whitaker I was suitably intrigued. I still remember going to the cinema to see it and being blown away by the hip-hop, gangster, samurai movie. It seemed unlike anything else, yet the influences from the likes of Kurosawa, Suzuki and especially Jean-Pierre Melville’s Le Samouraï.
The mysterious Ghost Dog was saved as a kid, by a low level mafia enforcer. Ghost Dog then swears his loyalty to this new master and undertakes various hit jobs through the years. Due to miscommunication, honour and downright stupidity by other parties, the mob decide Ghost Dog must be killed. This does not end well for all involved!
L-R: Cliff Gorman as Sonny Valerio, Henry Silva as Ray Vargo, and Gene Ruffini as Old Consigliere
The film is like a dream. As if the essence of medieval Japan has infused the streets of an unnamed city in 90s America, which results in the film having a timeless quality to it. Ghost Dog will often spend time meditating on the ancient code of the samurai words within the book of Yamamoto Tsunetomo’s recorded sayings, Hagakure. This leads to scenes overlaid with pigeons flying through the sky, Ghost Dog practicing with his sword or images of nature which make the viewer contemplate those very words. Juxtapose this with the cartoons the various characters are watching that mirror events from the film and reveal the absurdity of violence.
So many levels within a simple tale of a warrior betrayed and bringing vengeance on those who deserve it.
Tricia Vessey as Louise Vargo
It is a film that brings more, each time I watch it. The ritual of breaking into a car or sheathing a pistol as he would a sword. Ghost Dog’s conversation with his best friend, a French-speaking ice cream man named Raymond (played by the always wonderful Isaach de Bankolé ), neither of whom understand a word each other says, but who are in perfect sync with each other. The mafia trio of Henry Silva, Cliff Gorman and Gene Ruffini who bring some bizarre and uncomfortable moments with their conversations and thoughts on the people and events taking place. Ghost Dog’s meeting with the young Camille Winbush as Pearline reveals another side to the character as he passes on some of his teachings. Then there is RZA in a brief cameo. He passes Ghost Dog on the street and they each go forward onto their own quests. I always thought it would have been great to have another film with RZA’s character featuring that same scene.
The cinematography by Robby Müller (Paris, Texas) is beautiful making the streets of a decaying industrial area another character within the film. We look out over rooftops that promise brief freedom to those below and prowl the streets at night watching all the city has to offer.
The new restoration is glorious to behold. Everything is crystal clear and looks like it was made this year. The sound quality also means the brilliant soundtrack pops and the whole film is just lifted.
I have always loved the film from my first viewing and to now have it restored makes it wonderful to own once again. If you are a fan of the film then I highly recommend picking up this new edition. If you have never seen it then I think you may be missing out.
GHOST DOG: THE WAY OF THE SAMURAI is available to buy on 4K UHD, Limited Edition UHD Steelbook, Blu-ray, DVD and Digital from 23rd October 2023, and is available to pre-order below.
INCLUDED WITH GHOST DOG: THE WAY OF THE SAMURAI:
- Ghost Dog – The Odyssey: A Journey into the Life of a Samurai
- Deleted Scenes
- Original Trailer
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Ghost Dog The Way Of The Samurai (1999)
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