Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Movie #194: Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai

Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai is a weird Jim Jarmusch film (like there's another kind) starring Forest Whitaker, Henry Silva, Camile Winbush, Tricia Vessey, and Isaach De Bankolé. I'd only seen it once before, and it improves on a second viewing.

Ghost Dog (Whitaker) is a modern samurai. He lives alone and apart from most people, he tends to his pigeons, trains, maintains his own weapons, and performs assassinations for his master, a mob man named Louie (John Tormey). The main story arc of the movie traces the fall of the modern mob and this modern samurai; Ghost Dog performs a hit (another mob guy who is having an affair with the daughter (Vessey) of the mob boss (Silva)), but after killing him, finds the girl there with him. She gives him a copy of Rashomon, and he leaves, but now the rest of the mob want him dead for killing one of their own.

Ghost Dog then proceeds to kill the rest of them, except for Louie, to whom he remains steadfastedly loyal. The end of the movie sees Louise (Vessey) taking over her dead father's criminal enterprises.

What I did not notice, or maybe just didn't remember, from the last time I saw this movie was the sorry state of the mob. They can't even afford their rent, no one is afraid of them, and they're a bunch of fat, pathetic white dudes in bad suits. The only ones who are remotely competent are still blinded by their own traditions and prejudices; if they had left Ghost Dog alone after he did a job they asked him to do, everyone would still be alive. They lament the changes around them even as they choose death over adaptation.

Meanwhile, Ghost Dog is just as tradition bound, but his own traditions allow for a more zen mindset about the whole thing. When Louie finally shoots him (tying up the last loose end so that Louise can assume power), he unloads his gun, gives his gear to his friend Raymond (De Bankolé), and accepts his fate.

The movie is interspersed with Ghost Dog reading quotes from Hagakure, and the quotes directly translate to what's happening. Likewise, when we see the mobsters, they are intently watching cartoons (mostly classic; Woody Woodpecker and the like, but a couple of Itchy & Scratchy) that tell us what's about to happen in pretty literal terms. Like pretty much everything Jarmusch does, there's layers here, and it's fun to experience it.

I need to mention Camile Winbush, too, who plays Pearrline, a little girl who befriend Ghost Dog and "avenges" him by picking up his unloaded gun and dry-firing it at Louie as he flees Ghost Dog's body. She also takes his copy of Hagakure, implying that she'll follow in his footsteps. I'd watch that sequel.

My grade: A
Rewatch value: Medium

Next up: The Ghost in the Machine