Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai

12 4K UHD, Blu-ray, DVD

After his version of a western, 1995’s Dead Man starring Johnny Depp, indie director Jim Jarmusch decided to go further back in history, and give it a contemporary twist with his modern take on the samurai.

Released in 1999, it starred Forest Whitaker, in what was his first major lead in a film, as the titular character who gets involved with the mafia.

boom reviews Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai
“I scowl with frustration at myself in the mirror.”...

A young man finds himself in some trouble with some local thugs, until he’s rescued by Louie (John Tormey), a local gangster. After the incident, he goes on to study the way of the samurai, and then becomes Louie’s retainer in return for saving his life.

Now going by the name Ghost Dog (Whitaker), he acts as a hired gun for Louie, removing problematic individuals in a clean and quiet fashion.

For his latest job Louie gets Ghost Dog to take care of a made man, as he’s involved with the boss’s daughter, which is obviously a big no-no. It’s a delicate job, but Ghost Dog takes care of it, until he realises that said daughter was in the room when he took out his mark.

This is problematic for the gangster powers that be, so they decide that the only way to protect themselves is by taking care of the paid assassin. Not only don’t they fully understand the relationship between Louie and Ghost Dog, but more importantly, don’t comprehend exactly what Ghost Dog is capable of, but they’re about to find out.

boom reviews Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai
Ok, what if I give you a key of cocaine for a PB&J sandwich?

This marked the seventh feature for the US director, and on the surface at least, felt very different from his earlier work. At its heart it’s a film about a man who becomes a samurai and kills people, who deserve it, for his boss. And in that sense it follows the narrative of a standard crime drama. Dig a little deeper however and there are familiar themes and traits that the director often uses.

For instance, it’s a very quiet film; not only does Ghost Dog not say that much, except when he’s reading out excerpts from his samurai philosophy book, but many of the supporting characters say as little as possible too. Not only is that common for a Jarmusch film, but it also faintly echoes that of traditional Japanese films regarding samurais.

Whitaker epitomises the spiritual killer, who becomes a disciple of the way of the samurai, living a life of solitude on a rooftop with only pigeons for company. He is a loner, of his own doing, interacting with as few as people as possible. It’s certainly a role that elevated Whitaker onto a larger stage with his commanding performance.

A nice touch throughout the film is the director’s nod to traditional Japanese warriors, when his protagonist withdraws his guns – his weapon of choice in this modern world – they make a pleasing swish sound as if they were long blades.

To further cement the film into a ‘modern’ setting, Jarmusch, who often does the music to his films himself, gave that particular honour to RZA, who does a swell job with his hip, urban soundtrack, underpinning the overall gangsta vibe.

Perhaps one area that isn’t as represented here as it is in other Jarmusch films is his use of dead pan humour; the film certainly does well in creating a certain milieu, within this masculine gangster environ, but it does occasionally feel like a missed opportunity in places on the humour front, where it is lacking.

It’s also not as visually striking as some of his previous films, shot in a conventional fashion – for Jarmusch at least - which again is a little disappointing.

That said this 4K restoration is impressive, meaning that it certainly has never looked better.

Although it may not necessarily be considered a classic by the director, it’s a fascinating take on a modern samurai tale, reflecting on the codes followed by both samurai and gangsters, and to that end the code of the director himself.

we give this three out of five