Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai
Facts and Figures
Run time: 116 mins
In Theaters: Wednesday 6th October 1999
Distributed by: Artisan Entertainment
Contactmusic.com: 4 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 82%
Fresh: 77 Rotten: 17
IMDB: 7.6 / 10
Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai Review
Ghost Dog studies the early eighteenth century Japanese warrior code from the book, Hagakure: The Way of the Samurai, and the story is told as a sequence of verses from the ancient text. Each morning he bows to the altar he has constructed and practices the ancient disciplines of the samurai training. In the spirit of the ancient warriors, he has pledged his loyalty to a single master, a small-time mobster named Louie (John Tormey - Kiss Me Guido, Jungle 2 Jungle), who saved Ghost Dog's life when he was young. As an assassin, Ghost Dog communicates only via carrier pigeon and moves through the night like a phantom, killing with the skill and speed of a true Samurai.
Louie is a foot soldier in a struggling and aging crime family headed by Ray Vargo (Henry Silva). Acting on orders, Louie hires Ghost Dog to kill Handsome Frank (Richard Portnow), a "made man" and lover of the boss' daughter Louise (Tricia Vessey). Unfortunately, Louise happens to be in Frank's apartment when Ghost Dog offs Handsome Frank, and now the infuriated mob boss Vargo wants the hit-man dead. Using the wisdom and insight that he has learned from Hagakure and other ancient Eastern books, Ghost Dog must now confront the notorious crime family, or die.
Jarmusch's signature of inimitable characters with distinctive humor is apparent throughout, as both the mobsters and Ghost Dog are ruthless yet remain loveable. The film's score is a compilation of hip-hop and reggae beats done by The Rza, Wu Tang Clan's founder, and it effectively underscores Ghost Dog's ascetic spirituality along with the harsh tones of the surrounding urban environment. The story is well written, and Forest Whitaker's performance is moving. Also noteworthy is the jovial, French, ice cream vendor, Raymond (Isaach De Bankole). Raymond doesn't understand a word of English, and Ghost Dog doesn't speak any French, yet the two have a platonic understanding of one another that lets them speak, despite the language barrier.
On the flip side, my only qualm is that the film is too slow at certain points and may have benefited from some good editing. Also, Ghost Dog's stroll is appropriately meticulous in keeping with the method of the Samurai, but towards the end, I was fed up with his overly deliberate pace.
All in all, I highly recommend Ghost Dog -- it is truly an original. No other filmmaker has made such a bold statement about the parallels of societal violence that exist between cultures, whether Ancient Eastern, Mafioso, or Urban gangster. Fans of any of the three genres will be sure to enjoy this one.