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.