Movie of the Day – Ghost Dog

Not too long ago I was having a discussion with some friends about our top five list of movies.  Now me being the person that I am had to have some clarification.  Were we listing like top five action films, 90s film, comedy, drama, foreign, or any other classification?  Well we were just being put on the spot and had to talk about our favorite movies, which puts me in a tight, claustrophobic spot.  So I list off my films and one of the selections, Le Samouraï’, made me think about another often overlooked film.  If you aren’t familiar with Le Samouraï’, well I will cover that movie at a later date.  I didn’t feel up to the task of tackling, what is considered by me, one of my top five films of all time.  But I do feel comfortable talking about another movie that is an homage to the great Jean-Pierre Melville directed, 1967 French Crime film.  The film in question is called Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai, which is done by Jim Jarmusch and starring Forest Whitaker.

Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai stars Forest Whitaker as Ghost Dog, a hit man living in an unidentified but run-down city in what license plates call “The Industrialized State.” Known for his gift of being able to come and go without people noticing him, Ghost Dog is a self-taught samurai who is obsessed with order and his strict personal moral code, drawn from the philosophies of the Japanese warriors. As every samurai needs a leader to whom he swears loyalty, Ghost Dog has devoted himself the service of Louie (John Tormey), a low-level crime boss who once saved his life. When Louie’s superiors decide he must be executed, Ghost Dog leaps into action, methodically wiping out his many enemies. ~ Mark Deming, Rovi

This is a very simple movie, story wise, but has many layers that make the film a bit complex when you rewatch it.  On the surface, this is a straightforward hitman, crime film.  Ghost Dog is a hired assassin for Louie and is farmed out for mob work until the higher ups decide he needs to die.  Pretty standard story fare.  What makes the film interesting, if you have seen the film it was based on, is the little touches of the samurai code and reverence placed throughout the movie.  The book Rashomon plays a part in the movie since it shows up several times for several key characters.  The samurai code is also important as we see Ghost Dog speak in about the way of the samurai and the respect that he has for the code he lives by.  His loyalty is that of a samurai of the Shogunate and his sword is an extension of his master’s will.

Forest Whitaker actually nails the role of this silent samurai.  He fits the bill of being this innocuous figure, able to be seen when needed and slip into the background and not be seen anymore.  It makes him an effective killer and samurai, silent and deadly, but not being flashy.  His characterization is even amazing when you see him interact with other people.  The ice cream vendor is a prime example since neither speak each others language, but they still have a mutual understanding.  The interesting moment is when Ghost Dog walks paths with a man on the street and they share a sign of acceptance.  This character, played by The Rza, is actually another assassin, but while both could be considered enemies, they acknowledge their presence and move along with out conflict.

As far as an action film goes, Ghost Dog does deliver on some pretty well done action scenes.  The way Ghost Dog moves in and out of frame enhances his established training and dispatching foes is quick and easy.  The scenes are sometimes quick, but they are well done from a Director that isn’t that well known for his action movies.  I think playing the film as a slow crime drama worked out so well and stayed true to the 1967 film that they were paying homage to.  If you see this movie and enjoy it, check out Le Samouraï’ and watch a fantastic French crime film and their inclusion of the Samurai code into the film.

About Nick
I am just another blogger putting his thoughts into a website. My love is movies so most of my musings will be movie related. I work as an online marketer for an advertising company and when I am not earning a paycheck, I moonlight as a vigilante film blogger.

2 Responses to Movie of the Day – Ghost Dog

  1. Frank Bishop says:

    I do love this movie. I remember watching it with my step-dad when it came out. He thought it would suck but by the end he gave in and admitted to the awesome he just witnessed.

    Leon the Professional is an awesome movie, speaking of french and assassins.

    • Nick says:

      Your dad has good taste. I always found this to be a sleeper hit of a movie. I usually don’t equate action star with Forest Whitaker, but man is he pretty intense in the movie. I love his philosophical quips and exposition and he can handle himself in fights with this quiet intensity.

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