Projections - Movie Reviews

Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai

Using excerpts from the 18th century Hagakure warrior test, a book of the samurai, throughout Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai, director Jim Jarmusch presents a philosophic touch, that his star, Forest Whitaker, also a director, responds to, in a composed, if fatalistic manner.  He says to be a samurai one must consider being dead each day without fail, and this may have translated years earlier for the Japanese kamikaze, in a sacrificial way.

This deliberate, crisply shot picture pans with a flock of pigeons migrating to a rooftop inhabited by Whitaker's aptly named "Ghost Dog", whose hulky, yet elusive black hit man is at peace with birds he uses to communicate with his boss, Louie (John Tormey), who saved Ghost Dog's life from a thug, depicted in black and white flashbacks.  So, Ghost Dog, who since adheres to those old ronin disciplines which almost appear in every scene, treats Louie, his retainer, as his master, and works for him in discreet, efficient fashion.

The pilot calls upon Whitaker to be cerebral as one of his jobs isn't clean, with the daughter (Tricia Vessey) of a mobster (Richard Portnow), not being rubbed out, as Ghost Dog does exactly what he is told to do.  Jarmusch gets the novel Rashomon into the mix, as it is passed along, and its discipline, as the famous story relates different perspectives.  Now, of course, the samurai killer has to be erased by the Mob and Louie prophetically says "it's either you or me."

Amidst this mostly ponderous, increasingly violent film, this Zen-Buddhist mob film has some wry moments that are evident through the Mafioso Jersey folks who know little about Ghost Dog's name and his relationship with pigeons, and they watch cartoons like Felix The Cat and The Simpsons all day.  Their ruthless boss, Sonny Valerio is done sardonically and with extensive knowledge of rap music by Cliff Gorman.  Victor Qrgo is one of the imperfect goons, Vinnie, who initiates a roof top exterminating raid of pigeons and a Ghost Dog look-a-alike.

One of Jarmusch's non-road films, The Way of the Samurai often sees Ghost Dog easily getting into cars and using their CD's to enhance the brooding rap soundtrack done by DZA, who appears briefly as a camouflaged samurai.  Yet, in this way, Jarmusch's film seems to be divided in how it interprets the ancient thinking within the contemporary, gritty mob territory.

Like Ghost Dog, the young girl, played by Camille Witmann, is into reading, and Rashomon figures again, as they form a teacher/student bond.  While not appearing to have many friends, other than those who know him from the mean streets, a black ice cream vendor who speaks French, understands the hit man, who seems to get him, not speaking French himself.

Jarmusch does well in most cases not to mute his scenes for full effect, even if the precepts of the old text get wearying and quirky.  Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai delves into the consciousness and Whitaker exemplifies a quiet, but cool, well-read samurai whose ways may be considered antiquated, even dead, beyond the Jersey or New York state lines.

Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai

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