Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai -- Funny, Violent and Vibrantly Original


                               American independent director Jim Jarmusch works on a level higher than the conventional Hollywood. He has once said that, he makes movies from the bits and pieces other film-makers would cut from their movies. Prison-break is the storyline of his "Down By Law" (1986) and wild-west in Johnny Deep starrer "Dead Man" (1995). However, the big moments are not shown onscreen. What happens are after the big sequence or what does the characters in a idle state? Those are the question Jarmusch' movies poses. He simply deconstructs the genres and conventional narratives and evolves a new narrative on his own. His movie might not be involving or too artistic, but he is one of those rare American directors, who create highly original narrative arcs.

                                Jarmusch's "Dead Man" -- deconstruction of Western genre -- attained the status of cult classic. It has also egressed as one of the most critically acclaimed American features of the '90s -- placing it with the likes of "Pulp Fiction" and "JFK." However, his delve into the gangster genre with "Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai" (1999) didn't garner much attention. It is the story of an American button man, who perceives himself as living by the code of ancient Samurai. With "Ghost Dog", Jarmusch created a strange post-modern criminal underworld, where he mixes the two most popular rival gang communities -- the Italian mobsters and African-American gangstas.



                                  Ghost dog (Forest Whitaker) is the name of this hit-man and he carries around an 18th-century warrior manual called "Hagakure: The Book of the Samurai." He reads them aloud, while the screen is filled with the passages from the manual. Ghost dog lives by samurai code in a rooftop shack among the pigeons. Except the Haitian ice cream vendor (who speaks no English) and Pearline (Camille Winbush), a bookish little girl, he has no friends.  He works for Louie (John Tormey), a small-time Italian mobster who once saved his life. One of his hits goes awry, when makes the mistake of carrying out a hit in front of the daughter of one of Louie's bosses. The mob bosses decide that he should be killed for his mistake and now he has a price on his head. When the situation comes to 'kill or be killed', Ghost Dog commences a campaign to wipe out his adversaries.      

                                    The story description might make it sound like a conventional gangster movie, but Jarmusch's absurdist, gallows humor and his minimalist mode makes it an experience, like nothing you have seen before. "Dead Man" was unloved at first and then later attained a cult status because redesigning the genre template and sprinkling it with his own incongruous ingredients. Similarly "Ghost Dog" comes across various eccentric styles (like hip-hop, samurai, mafia) and the film-maker's blend of warmth and cool-headed characters are likeable ones, with enough eccentricities  to keep us interesting. This is not the first time in a movie, where eastern codes are integrated with western codes. Spaghetti Western master 'Sergio Leone' made Kurosawa's "Yojimbo" as "A Fistful of Dollars." French auteur Jean Pierre Melville ("Le Samourai") and John Sturgess ("The Magnificent Seven") also made classic movies in the similar style.  


                                  The only un-samurai like quality in the movie is the lack of scenes to create dramatic dynamics. There is no intellectual conception, primal mystery or larger meaning like "Down by Law" and "Dead Man." The climax shoot-out and ending has affinity with conventional Hollywood. Jim Jarmusch is more an observer than an analyzer. So, in that way you can say that Ghost Dog's trip is more satisfying than his destination.

                                 All the performances are top-notch, but obviously the movie belongs to Forest Whitaker. The fantastically versatile actor is looks convincing as a professional killer and also as a soft-hearted man who likes to eat ice cream in the park. He has such a genial face, which can easily exhibit sorrow, anger and wisdom. Whitaker is amply supported by an excellent crew of supporting actors -- John Tormey, Gene Riffini, Victor Argo and Henry Silva -- who play mobsters in an impressively deadbeat manner.


                                   "Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai" is an inventive, urban crime fable which might be liked by the open-minded and art-house audiences. This is also the most easily accessible movie of Jarmusch's oeuvre.

Trailer


Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai -- IMDb

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