Joseph M. (RoboticJoe) from TOLEDO, OH Reviewed on 1/3/2010...
Has to be one of my all time favorite movies. The story of samurai assassin living in modern day sprawls and urban of NY gives this movie a feeling of something different and great. The sound score by RZA and tracks by other lo-fi asia styling kung-fu hip-hop skillz (mostly affiliates of wu-tang clan) gives the soundtrack a 5 star rating too. ~ Joe
One of the Reasons Why I Still Go to the Movies...
lhamokai | 03/21/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Unfortunately, I fear that many people who watch "Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai" will not enjoy it. When I first watched the film, a number of audience members uttered aloud, "What the hell is this movie about?" I imagine they were anticipating a far different -- and, dare I say, inferior -- type of film, like a cross between "Friday" and a John Woo film. It is initially easy to think that, yes, the film is an eclectic syncretism of many genres and film formulas; but out of this mixture comes a new and refreshing invention, a film worth seeing that will no doubt keep open-minded viewers stimulated and awe-inspired.I walked away from "Ghost Dog" quietly hailing it as the best and most original film I've seen this year. When friends asked me what this film was "about," I honestly couldn't give a straight answer."Ghost Dog" is like a great poem, meticulously structured and detailed with loving touches, rich with multilevelled meanings. The art direction is subtle yet bold, with a color palate to suit every scene; the RZA's musical soundtrack, which you will want to own, is smooth and elegant, inspiring dream-like and meditative head-bobbing; the film's well-timed screwball-caliber sense of humor is astonishing (you may well find yourself laughing silly at unexpected moments); the film pirouettes effortlessly through a variety of themes: race relations, literature, loyalty, and even hip-hop; and, above all, "Ghost Dog" is filled with great peformances and memorable characters. Forest Whitaker, most notably, gives one of his finest performances as the film's title character (inadequately described as an "insane but ethical assassin" by various critics). His is a poignant portrait of a bruised and lonely soul, fire-hardened by a samurai's discipline and sense of honor; his dynamic visage meanders smoothly from bliss to ferocity, with a haunting (and haunted) calmness, a flickering sense of compassion. In addition, Whitaker's lyrical readings from the "Hagakure: Book of the Samurai", with his gravelly yet fluid voice, harmonize pure poetry with pure cinematic imagery -- something to be experienced rather than described. And his soulful relationship with his best friend, a Haitian ice cream vendor who speaks French but not a lick of English (while Ghost Dog himself speaks no French), is particularly touching, arcane, and possessed of an unsayable splendor.Out of respect for the film, I dare not reveal any of the film's other details or surprises. Like any masterful art, "Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai" is meant to be experienced rather than merely described. While many will find the film too bizarre -- especially for a palate accustomed to Hollywood's mainstream rigmarole -- I could say that, at the very least, "Ghost Dog" will certainly please filmgoers in search of a new and inspiring entertainment. "Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai" is an experience, and like all great films it feels too short. In a time when most mainstream films leave many of us hungry for new images, smarter stories, and great surprises -- "Ghost Dog" is a film to nourish us."
The Poetry of War
T.S. Morris | Austin, Texas United States | 05/02/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Even having seen Le Samurai (a French film that Jarmusch borrowed from, or payed homage to, as they call it), Ghost Dog still seems a wholly original work of art. To fully enjoy Ghost Dog one must understand that it is not an action movie or a comedy, or even a mix of the two, it is an existential drama that happens to have a certain amount of violence and humor in it. The violence is inventive and the humor is HILARIOUS. Whitaker's performance is perfect. Ghost Dog doesn't seem insane, as many people have said, just completely out of touch with contemporary society. Whitaker makes him a compassionate, sympathetic charater who is also tough. Jim Jarmusch is one of the best directors currently working. I hesitate to call Ghost Dog his best movie because all of his movies are excellent. Only he could hae made an existential hit man movie that is this funny, contemplative, and entertaining."
Perfect In Every Way
Adam J. Whittemore | Arbutus, MD | 09/25/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)
"After seeing all of Jim Jarmusch's films, I have to admit not a single one of them is easy to watch. All of them are boring and slow, but I love them anyway. Unlike all his earlier work, Ghost Dog is easily accessible yet still definitely a "Jim" movie. The subtle beauty of this movie is quickly realized within the first few minutes of the film. The start of this film is much like his earlier works, usually showing a run down part of a town with music playing overtop. They seem to be the only shots he uses that have panning and movement with the camera. After knowing his work, you realize this is because he hates showing the audience what to look at. It is just one of the few things Jarmusch does that makes him the best. But, back to the music. Of all the soundtracks that he has had in the past 20 years, I must admit this one is the best. He allows RZA (from Wu Tang Clan fame) to add music that enhances every scene, which is different from what he normally does. These tracks are all awesome, varying from an outright Gangsta Rap song to the weirdest jazz ever created. The rest of the movie is beautiful in every way. Jarmusch once again uses poetry to create visuals that go along with his beautiful dialogue. This movie probably has the most dialogue of any of his movies, yet it still isn't much. There are things that take getting used to and seem like they are not important to the plot, but for some reason they are just really great scenes. A good example of this is the scene when Ghost Dog and his Haitian friend (who knows why Jarmusch made him not be able to communicate with his best friend?) are watching a man build a boat in an alley for no apparent reason. There seems to be no logic to this scene, yet it has a certain charm that just adds character to all his films. This, like a lot of Jarmusch movies, creates a movie that brings together many different aspects never put together before. In this, he combines Eastern Philosphy, The Dying Mob Scene, and the Hip Hop generation all into one story. That is something no director could pull off in a two hour movie. As for the rest of this movie, I can't say enough. With things like mobsters watching old (and a few Itchy & Scratchy) cartoons that seem to be foreshadowing, how can you go wrong? Plus, the addition of carrier pigeons as communication, GENIUS! You must understand that this movie is probabaly his funniest yet (tied with Dead Man) with the addition of Rapping Mob bosses and overall beautiful acting. Robbie Muller once again proves why he's the best filmographer in the business, Forest Whitaker finally gets a role that he deserves, and Jim Jarmusch strengthens his greatness with another masterpiece to add to his library."
A Tale of Two Warriors
Chris Wells | Chicago, IL | 06/25/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Jim Jarmusch, idiosyncratic warrior and independent filmmaker extraordinare, has made another film that falls, both stylistically and thematically, into the director's long line of culture clash, fish-out-of-water comic dramas. It is an offbeat crime comedy that, for the most part, follows the genre's rules according to plot (most of it is straight out of Le Samourai), but adds its own spin with oddball subplots, allusions, and touches (all bearing the imprint of their director). The film bears a number of similarites, in fact, with Jarmusch's previous fictious work, the surreal, deadpan Western Dead Man, except Ghost Dog is much more accessible to mainstream audiences. Forest Whitaker, in a role written specifically for him, plays the title character with the quiet elegance, dignity, and grace of an early Charlie Chaplin. (Johnny Depp also comes to mind for his performances in the aforementioned Dead Man and Tim Burton's Edward Scissorhands.) Ghost Dog is an old-fashioned samurai, and hit man, stuck in an ever-changing world. (perhaps much like director Jarmusch and his ever-fading romantic worldview and optimism). He lives on the roof of a buiding, feeds pigeons, and keeps mainly to himself. His relationships with a French ice cream vendor(think Night On Earth) and a young girl (similar to that in Pi) are priceless. The light humor sprinkled throughout adds much interest to the proceedings. Much of it comes at the expense of the helpless Italian mobsters in the film. Perhaps Jarmusch's only failure is not developing some of his secondary characters beyond their stereotypes.The DVD appears to warrant a purchase (I have mine on pre-order) for its deleted scenes, documentary, and isolated music score. The music is one of the most important, and surprisingly wonderful aspects of the film. (This coming from someone who is by no means a fan of rap.) The other extras should offer an interesting insight into Jarmusch's directorial processes, although the lack of a audio commentary by the director is disappointing. We are lucky, though, to get what bonuses we do after MGM's no-frills release of Mystery Train on DVD.So, if you're a fan of Jarmusch's, of independent cinema, or just any type of unique and hypnotically engrossing film, Ghost Dog would be an excellent DVD to look into purchasing. While you're at it, consider buying Yamamoto Tsunetomo's Hagakure: The Book of the Samurai, a major influence on the film. A film recommended to any patient filmgoer over 15. It is one of my favorite films of 2000 to date, and the best, funniest, and strangest crime comedy since the Coen Brothers' 1998 effort, The Big Lebowski."
A memorable Forest Whitaker as a samurai contract killer
Lawrance M. Bernabo | The Zenith City, Duluth, Minnesota | 08/04/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I do not expect most people to like "Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai" as much as I did because I do not think most viewers are going to be as willing to accept the black comedy aspects along with the philosophical musings and sporadic blood shed. In fact, I think a lot of people will find the mixture rather strange, but at least compelling if not outright provocative. Writer-director Jim Jarmusch is able to pull this off because he has Forest Whitaker in the title role and when he admits on one of the special features that he would have abandoned the project if Whitaker had passed on "Ghost Dog" you know he is absolutely right.
You willingness to take this film on at face value is tested by the premise. Once upon a time a mid-level Mafiaso named Louie (John Tormey) came upon a couple of guys beating the crap out of a young black man (Damon Whitaker). When the guys take exception to Louie's interruption, he blows them away. We are told that some time later the young black man comes to Louie and declares himself to be in debt; calling himself Ghost Dog, he becomes a contract killer for Louie, although he calls himself a loyal retainer. Ghost Dog follows the way of the samurai, which is laid out in the book "Hagakure: The Way of the Samurai." But where the book enters the picture is unclear. If he was reading it before the assault then he should have been able to disptach those two guys; he certainly does well against everybody else in this film. But perhaps it was afterwards.
The key thing to understand is that Ghost Dog is a Don Quixote figure, both in terms of following a creed long forgotten by the world in which he lives but also because he is certifiably crazy. Ghost Dog is living by a rules that Louie does not even know about, let along understand. Yet this does not bother Ghost Dog any more than the fact that he only speaks English and his best friend, Haitian ice cream vendor Raymond (Isaach De Bankolé) only speaks French. The major conceit of this film are the quotation from "Hagakure" recited by Ghost Dog (e.g., "Even if one's head were to be suddenly cut off, he should be able to do one more action with certainty"), which present the philosophy of the Samurai and serve to explain his motivations.
The problem comes when Ghost Dog does a successful hit on a mobster only to discover that Louise Vargo (Tricia Vessey), daughter of the big boss, Ray Vargo (Henry Siliva), is on the scene. She was not supposed to be there, but she was. Ghost Dog has no instructions about killing anybody else and Louise is reading "Rashomon," so he leaves her alone (but borrows the book). However, despite the fact he is a successful contract killer, Vargo wants Ghost Dog killed. In one of the most surreal exposition scenes of all-time, Louie has to explain to Vargo, underboss Sonny Valerio (Cliff Gorman) and a senile Old Consigliere (Gene Ruffini) that he contacts Ghost Dog by carrier pigeon, trying to explain to the old school mafiaoses the bizarre relationship.
For Vargo it comes down to Ghost Dog or Louie, and since Ghost Dog has objections to it being either himself or his "master," he takes matters into his own hands. This guy might practice with a sword, but he is pretty good with a gun as well. Meanwhile, Ghost Dog has befriended a young girl, Pearline (Camille Winbush), trying to pass on something of the life he has lived and what he believes. There might be some message here about two outdated modes of thinking, that of the Samurai verus that of the Mafia, but ultimately this film is about Whitaker's character and his performance. Whatever problems there are with the storyline or the clash of disparate elements in the film are forgiven by what Whitaker does as he goes back and forth between living a life of meditation and being an efficient killing machine. Jarmusch wrote the script and directed this film, but "Ghost Dog" is Whitaker's film. "