Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai

Director: Jim Jarmusch
Year: 1999
Country: Germany
Running time: 116 mins
USA/Japan/France/Germany 1999
Director/Screenplay: Jim Jarmusch
Production co: Plywood Productions
Producers: Richard Guay, Jim Jarmusch
Co-producer: Diana Schmidt
Photography: Robby Müller
Editor: Jay Rabinowitz
Production designer: Ted Berner
Costume designer: John Dunn
Music: RZA

Ghost Dog: Forest Whitaker
Ray Vargo: Henry Silva
Louise Vargo: Tricia Vessey
Louie Bonacelli: John Tormey
Sonny Valerio: Cliff Gorman
Raymond: Isaach de Bankolé
Vinny: Victor Argo
Handsome Frank: Richard Portnow
“He’s a man in black, alone but not lonely, pursuing a treacherous trade, doing business with lethal idiots who understand his methods but not his magic. He is Ghost Dog, a philosophical black gunman who runs afoul of the mobsters who employ him in Jim Jarmusch’s niftily quirky Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai. And yes, he is Jarmusch as well – a filmmaker who, since his 1984 Stranger Than Paradise, has pretty much defined the spirit of the truly independent American film. Ghost Dog is talking about himself and his Mafia contact, but he might be speaking of Jarmusch when he says, ‘Me and him, we’re from different ancient tribes. And we’re both almost extinct’.

“The film – what its maker calls ‘a gangster, hip-hop, samurai eastern Western’ – is about the gang that couldn’t shoot straight and the killer for hire who can’t stop shooting. The gang is a boneyard of Mafia dinosaurs in North Jersey (Tony Soprano’s turf). They stare numbly at old cartoons and are months behind in the rent for their clubhouse. Next to them, Ghost Dog (Forest Whitaker) is both modern and ageless. His cyber-age artillery and acute aim make him the ideal hit man. Between gigs he plays hip-hop CDs in whatever car he has stolen. Yet this Ghost Doggy Dogg lives by the precepts of the classic Hagakure: The Way of the Samurai. He has sworn loyalty to the Mafia man (John Tormey) who saved his life – though he knows that loyalty may cost him that life.

“With its snazzy murders and a cooler-than-Ice score (by RZA of Wu-Tang Clan), Ghost Dog runs a serious risk of being its director’s first hit. That would be nice, because this is his most compelling film and because it’s still profoundly weird, a typical Jar-mush of genre bending and ethnic blending, a grafting of European modernism and Japanese mysticism onto an American gangster movie. Caught in this crossfire of the contemplative and the violent, the viewer is kept as off-guard as most of the killers in the film.” — Richard Corliss, Time, 3/3/00