Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Movie Review: Ghost Dog Way of the Samurai 4 Stars

“The Way of the Samurai is found in death. Meditation on inevitable death should be performed daily. Every day when one’s body and mind are at peace, one should meditate upon being ripped apart by arrows, rifles, spears and swords and being carried away by surging waves. And every day without fail one should consider himself as dead. This is the substance of the Way of the Samurai.”
From: Hagakure: The Book of the Samurai

Forrest Whitaker is at his absolute best as Ghost Dog, an anachronistic and anomalous 300-pound black samurai warrior on retainer to his master, Louie (John Tormey), a low-level mafioso in la famiglia of mob boss, Ray Vargo (Henry Silva).

When audiences saw the trailer for Ghost Dog, they giggled at the sight of the behemoth Whitaker going through the movements of the samurai, p’shawing and pooh-poohing the whole film. That’s unfortunate. Because they missed oddball director Jim Jarmusch’s point in creating the character and the world he inhabits, in the first place. The Industrial State in which Ghost Dog lives is an absurd universe, peopled by rap-reciting Italian mobsters, Rashomon-reading Mafia princesses, undead Indian pigeonkeepers, Haitian ice cream men and 300-pound black samurais. It is a timeless world of gray-area themes of justice, honor, vengeance and indebtedness, not unlike Sergio Leone’s spaghetti westerns, but with Jarmusch’s indelibly twisted sense of humor.

In addition to Whitaker, Ghost Dog boasts Jarmusch regulars and a wonderful assortment of character actors, perfectly suited for Jarmusch’s quirky sensibilities. Hip-hop artist The RZA (pronunced riz-zah for the uninitiated) provides the soundtrack for Ghost Dog and creates densely-layered themes that lend spooky atmospherics and dramatic intensity to Jarmusch’s evenly-paced film.

Ghost Dog resurrects the spirit of Westerns, gangster movies and kung fu flicks, infusing each genre with both Eastern philosophy and an Oriental sense of storytelling. The genre-bending Ghost Dog is a very Zen-like composite of styles, forms and themes, perfectly balanced by filmmaking samurai Jarmusch.

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