Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai

In the world of Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai, Ghost Dog (Forest Whitaker) is a rotund assassin who follows the teachings of the Hagakure, the book detailing the ways of the samurai. Ghost Dog frequently works for an Italian mob family obsessed with rap and cartoons. Yes, this is a comedy, and yes, it is deftly funny. Ghost Dog is the new movie by independent filmmaker Jim Jarmusch, and there is really nothing else like it in release right now. It is a quirky mix of violence, humor, honor, and music, made in a way that asserts its independence while remaining accessible to the masses.

Ghost Dog (Whitaker, Light It Up, Battlefield Earth) carries out contracts for Louie (John Tormey, Safe Men, Joe Gould's Secret), a member of the local Mafia. A hit for Louie goes awry, incurring the wrath of crime family head Ray Vargo (Henry Silva, Unconditional Love, The End of Violence). Vargo orders a hit on Ghost Dog. Ghost Dog then proceeds to do the honorable thing; protect Louie and protect himself. The pace of the movie is slow, but the characters are so colorful and bizarre that the immersion in their world is quite enjoyable. Ghost Dog has no phone. He only communicates by carrier pigeon, making it extremely difficult for the mob to even locate him. In a way, both Ghost Dog and the Mafia are men lost in time. They each belong to a time that is past, and each is trying to live the way of life they feel is proper in this new and strange world.

The mobsters are plain idiots. They are all far out of their prime, and fumble their way around the city. A hike up the stairs is enough to tire them out. Regardless of where they are or what they are doing, cartoons are always playing. Silva in particular maintains a face that is some strange mix between cold ferocity and complete bafflement. Ghost Dog, on the other hand, is a man of high honor. Passages from the Hagakure flash across the screen as Whitaker narrates. He is an efficient killing machine, yet cares dearly for his pigeons. His only friend is Raymond (Isaak de Bankole, A Soldier's Daughter Never Cries, Chocolat), a French speaking ice-cream salesman. In the spirit of oddness, Raymond speaks no English, and Ghost Dog speaks no French. Yet the two understand each other more than they realize. Whitaker has few lines, but acts with his mere presence. He is the embodiment of the samurai

Jarmusch (Dead Man, Year of the Horse) writes and directs his way through this weird tale. Jarmusch effectively weaves in the teachings of the Hagakure with elements of the story, using the ancient teachings to push the story forward. Laid-back hip-hop music by the RZA of the Wu-Tang clan (a rap group obsessed with Asian philosophies and martial arts) permeates the film, further blurring any genre lines. The ending of Ghost Dog feels drawn out, but the rest of the movie more than makes up for it.

Mongoose Rates It: Pretty Good.
1 hour, 56 minutes, Rated R for stong violence and language.

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