Ghost Dog: The Way of the SamuraiOctober 6, 1999
An African American mafia hit man who models himself after the samurai of old finds himself targeted for death by the mob.
Release Year: 1999
Rating: 7.5/10 (43,303 voted)
Critic's Score: 67/100
Stars: Forest Whitaker, Henry Silva, John Tormey
In Jersey City, an African American hit man follows "Hagakure: The Way of the Samurai." He lives alone, in simplicity with homing pigeons for company, calling himself Ghost Dog. His master, who saved his life eight years ago, is part of the local mob. When the boss' daughter witnesses one of Ghost Dog's hits, he becomes expendable. The first victims are his birds, and in response, Ghost Dog goes right at his attackers but does not want to harm his master or the young woman. On occasion, he talks with his best friend, a French-speaking Haitian who sells ice cream in the park, and with a child with whom he discusses books. Can he stay true to his code? And if he does, what is his fate?
Chinese Restaurant Owner
Young Ghost Dog
Boy in Window
Gangsta in Red
Live by the code. Die by the code.
Official webpage in Poland |
Release Date: 6 October 1999
Filming Locations: Jersey City, New Jersey, USA
Opening Weekend: FRF 5,895,446
(14 October 1999)
Did You Know?
The character of Nobody is played by Gary Farmer, who also played a character named Nobody in
Dead Man. He has the same line in both movies: "Stupid fuckin' white man!"
The final shoot out is said to take place at "High Noon" and the clock in the background rings 12 times, but the shadows are far too long, indicating early morning or late evening.
In the words of the ancients, one should make his decision within the space of seven breaths. It is a matter of being determined and having the spirit to break through to the other side.
One of the most unique and daringly good films in years
Ghost Dog: Way of the Samurai
* * * * Stars
Forest Whitaker stars in this amazingly good character driven film. Whitaker
is Ghost Dog, a New York hitman who lives by the code of the ancient
samurai. When a job for the mob goes wrong they decide to cut their losses
and put a hit out on him. But since he's a samurai and not just a normal
hitman this proves to be a huge mistake for them.
This film really works on three levels. First is the duality of the film's
coolness factor and the strength of Whitaker's performance. Whitaker
radiates cool in this film. In every scene and every frame, through both
action and inaction we know he is being of awesome power. His performance is
note perfect. There's one scene where a grievous wrong has been done and we
see Whitaker absorb the devastation, then he narrates that when a making
decision it should be done in the space of seven breathes. Once that
decision is made and we realize Whitaker's full fury will now be unleashed
upon his enemies, it sends a tingle up the spine of the viewer. Whitaker's
resolve shines through the screen and through his subsequent acting the pace
builds until we reach the film's ultimate battle, which is a really, really
good fight scene-one of the most satisfying ever filmed.
Furthermore we have the film's philosophy. This aspect of the film is the
most important of all even more so than Whitaker's superb performance. As
the film's tale unfolds we do need learn about the Way of the Samurai
through the eastern philosophy Whitaker espouses as he narrates the film.
Often times the film breaks from the action just to linger on the narration
and let in sink in. It's a technique that helps set the tone of the film and
makes it a completely absorbing experience.
The third thing that the film does really well is it is character and not
plot driven. At least just as much time is spent following Whitaker through
his day to day life as he interacts with people in his community as is spent
on the action parts of the plot. In many ways the film works as commentary
on the values of modern society. The scenes with Whitaker and his best
friend, a Haitian ice cream vendor provide this film with true heart and
soul. We see repeatedly that the two friends can understand each other
because they are at peace with the world and in tune with their
surroundings, so that their bond transcends mere language. Ghost Dog also
has a touching relationship with a young girl that he hopes to impart his
code to so that she may one day have the tools of knowledge necessary to
escape life in the inner city. These are characters that would have been
interesting a two-hour film just living their lives without the samurai and
hitman aspects of the film. However both aspects work exceptionally well,
the effect taken as a whole make this one of the best films of the past few
Besides Whitaker and his friends, one other great performance is given by
Tricia Vessey as Louise Vargo, the young girl that sets all that happens in
motion. It's a small part but a key one that she does an admirable job
If there is a flaw with this film it is that the gangster villains are
unnecessarily racist. These scenes are somewhat jarring on first viewing,
but are at least consistent with the film's ultimate tone that the
gangster's way of life is dying, while the code of the samurai is timeless.
It is no coincidence that all the mobsters are much older than Whitaker.
Both characters note numerous times that the world is changing, the
difference is the gangsters say it with fear and trepidation, while Whitaker
notices it as observation. Like the changing of the wind the changing of
time and circumstance is neither good nor bad when weighed against his
While Whitaker deserves infinite praise for his performance, almost just as
much praise must be given to director Jim Jarmush. His directing of this
film is quite daring and even more skillfull. His approach to the narration
is unusual and yet it works on multiple levels and lets us this is a film
more about tone than action. The character driven film is a rare commodity.
Most films are plot driven moving from point A to point B with no more
creativity than a child connecting a dot-to-dot. Here we have a film that
starts with its characters and lets them live the lives they've always lived
before the central plot elements invaded their existence. The plot is
addressed in a timely enough manner, but we see the characters have their
own commitments to fulfill too. It's a hard trick to make a character driven
film really work without seeming disjointed or slowly paced but Jarmush
succeeds masterfully. Jarmush also fills the film with other references in
the background that emphasize the character's natures-such as book on bears
or the dialogue of a few cartoons here and there. Many films of try to do
this, but few films I have ever seen do it as well as Ghost Dog
A final note, the ending of this film that is one that will be very
divisive. People will either love it or hate, personally I loved it. It is
an ending that is true to all that his come before for both the characters
and their conflicting codes but also one that is both surprising despite
being adequately foreshadowed.