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Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai – Review July 31, 2009

Posted by Cello in Domestic Film Reviews.


Director Jim Jarmusch is a truly independent filmmaker with a very distinctive cinematic style. Jarmusch has always struck me as one of those extremely self-conscious directors. Regardless, this movie was one my first artsy film. It didn’t depend on big names or explosions, it was quiet and moody, and it told a story that moved me. Sure, many a studio film did the same, but not the same way this one did. Plus, it just plain kicked ass.

Ghost Dog revolves around its title character, a black hit man who has taken the spiritual and philosophical posture of a samurai, and his attempts to reconcile his beliefs with those of his employers. Forest Whitaker plays a character whose a mix between Travis Bickle and Jean Reno’s character from The Professional, all spliced beneath an entertaining layer of Zen-like philosophies. He’s also a bit mysterious. It will not escape your attention that Ghost Dog is a black man who refers to a white master and who is pursued by a mob because of his improper attention to a white woman. The revenge plot may be rooted in samurai legend, but Jarmusch also clearly intends for us to pick up a more disturbing and less exotic resonance.


Ghost Dog is a blend of myths: from 19th and 20th century classic literature to 20th/21st century hip-hop culture, from codes of 18th century Japanese Samurai warriors to an earlier 20th century stereotype of Italian-American Mafia, from television cartoons to ancient and modern versions of clans and families. So there are definetely layers to this movie if you so choose to invest the time. The soundtrack done by the RZA is also beautifully done, as expected.

This is a film that entertains handily as both a comedy and a mob drama but yields astonishing answers to any sociological, mythic, or political pressures you might apply to the story. By contrast, Ghost Dog is in harmony with his environment as a samurai hero should be. He moves with grace and stealth and kills with detached and ruthless efficiency. This movie is notched above average in my opinion, but Ghost Dog’s adoption of the samurai ethic seems at times uncomfortably close to self-help therapy rather than a philosophical position. Still, theres an enjoyable film underneath it all.



1. animekritik - July 31, 2009

I liked this movie a lot but no doubt you have to take it with a grain of salt if you’re looking for an actually accurate interpretation of the samurai code..

2. Heather - July 31, 2009

It’s hard to imagine this being a movie worthwhile. I remember the college years always contemplating watching it, and always passing.

I have to admit your review made me consider giving it a second chance after too many superficial cover box preconceived notions. Sounds a little more in depth than I gave it credit for.

3. Cello - July 31, 2009

I’d say give it a shot, mainly because its one of the few movies I review that you can easily find on netflix or at the rental place, you could do alot worse for $3.99 😛

4. Bartleby - August 1, 2009

Been years since I saw this. I agree that this isn’t a film for a real samurai enthusiast. It’s definitely more a Jarmusch film than anything else; with the weird eccentricites and odd rythyms and long sections where the characters seem sedate.

I remember being most impressed and intrigued by the way he used the pigeons to send and retrieve his messages.

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