Forest Whitaker and John Tormey star in GHOST DOG: THE WAY OF THE SAMURAI, directed by Jim Jarmusch for Artisan Entertainment.

Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai (1999, Jim Jarmusch)

I’m having a hard time thinking of something to say about Ghost Dog. It’s perfect. Jarmusch doesn’t just do a bunch of good things or a bunch of right things. Every single thing he does is perfect. And Ghost Dog is perfect pretty early on too–in the first five or ten minutes, I was completely lost in the film. I’ve seen it before, but not since the theater, and I didn’t remember it being so unspeakably great. It’s impossible to describe the film. I could list aspects of it, I suppose. It’d be a long list and I’d forget something anyway, because Ghost Dog creates an experience quite unlike anything else, even from Jarmusch, because with Ghost Dog, he’s dealing with familiar genres. Ghost Dog is a gangster movie. It’s a Japanese gangster movie, except with Italian gangs, and a black hit man. I suppose one could interpret it as being about the uselessness of violence and while Ghost Dog isn’t hostile to such interpretation, I find thinking about the film unpleasant. I want to remember the way I felt watching it, sure, but I don’t want to analyze it too much. I don’t want to examine Jarmusch’s use of humor, his frequent theme of people separated language, or anything else. Yes, I want to remember Cliff Gorman rapping along with Flavor Flav, but I really think examining that scene and trying to deconstruct it… might ruin the fact Gorman’s got a great voice and hearing him rap and seeing him dance is really funny.

I was about to say listing the film’s best supporting performances would essentially be a cast list, but I think I will take a second to mention John Tormey. Tormey’s really the film’s second lead, after Forest Whitaker, who’s amazing. While Ghost Dog has a constrained set of emotions–ways of the samurai code–Tormey gets to go through an incredible range of emotion. Whitaker runs the film, however. Everything he does is done with such precision, it’s impossible to imagine him doing anything else in the scene, much less someone else playing the character.

There are some major contributing factors to Ghost Dog‘s excellence (well, Jarmusch hired everyone, so I guess he’s ultimately responsible), such as the location–Jersey City, which has a perfect mix of urban decay and bright green trees–and the music (by RZA) and, obviously, cinematographer Robby Müller.

It’s an amazing film.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Written and directed by Jim Jarmusch; director of photography, Robby Muller; edited by Jay Rabinowitz; music by RZA; production designer, Ted Berner; produced by Richard Guay; released by Artisan Entertainment.

Starring 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).


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One thought on “Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai (1999, Jim Jarmusch)”

  1. ” … Cliff Gorman rapping along with Flavor Flav … ”

    I’ve always thought that was Jim Jarmusch’s way of making a joke about “gangster-rappers.” (Middle-aged, white-guy New Jersey mafia gangster, rapping.)

    I thought that scene was freakin’ hilarious, too.

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