Jim Jarmusch’s Ghost Dog: The Way Of The Samurai features Forest Whitaker in the leading role. The pudgy dude who seemed the perfect fit for Idi Amin in The Last King Of Scotland seems a whole lot more bewildering as a dude who lives by the samurai code, working for a mob boss as a hired killer. The film itself is a sorta homage to Melville’s Le Samourai but it somehow also reminded me of Leon The Professional in some ways. Of course, it’s also set to a soundtrack built by RZA. Which is kinda awesome.

It is curious. There’s a whole lotta pop culture being mentioned, from Rashomon and Hagakure to Betty Boop and Felix the Cat. Or Wind In The Willows and Frankenstein. It’s a kind of cultural kaleidescope, with a black man pretending he’s a samurai working for the Italian mafioso. The titular character Ghost Dog’s best friend is Haitian and speaks only French which he doesn’t understand. Yet they seem to communicate and emote perfectly. There’s also 2 other people in Ghost Dog’s life, Pearline, a young girl which lends the Leon aspect and Louie, the mob boss. In the former, Ghost Dog seems to envision a sort of protege. In the latter, he is respectful towards, as if he really was a samurai working for a retainer in feudal Japan. Interestingly, the mob are also made up of old Italian dudes who are characters in their own right. One dude likes to rap in the bathroom. There’s a certain cultural stereotyping but also a certain non racism inherent in the characters. Also, Nobody from another Jarmusch film, Dead Man, makes an appearance, uttering his trademark, “Stupid fucking white man!”.

A lot of the stuff that gets mentioned, various books or the cartoons mob bosses watch before they get whacked, seem to relate strongly with what’s happening in the film or has something to do with the plot or characters. In the most Leon-esque scene, albeit with no trace of Lolita elements, Ghost Dog has a conversation with Pearline about books. Each one seems to emphasize him in relation to the story at large. On the flipside are the cartoons, usually pre emptive elements that foretell the mob bosses death, even going so far that the happenings in real life are pretty much mimicking the cartoons entirely. One scene has a cartoon character firing bullets up a drainpipe to attack another character. In the real world, Ghost Dog is in the basement, working his way to a pipe attached to the bathroom upstairs. He disassembles it and manoeuvres his pistol to kill the crim who’s wondering why a red light is coming out the plughole.

It’s kinda funny in bits, especially when Ghost Dog twirls his pistols as if they were swords. Or when Ghost Dog and his Haitian friend Raymond converse, pre empting each other despite the language barrier and then following up on what the other has guessed. Like when Raymond says in French, “I guess you have to go because it’s getting dark right?” or words to that effect and Ghost Dog replies, “I got to go, it’s getting dark soon”. They don’t get it but they feel it and maybe sometimes that’s more powerful than a film with standardized plot or character development with conceivable story arcs or a linear progressive idea. Ghost Dog follows a basic script as such, which is the lead character knocking off mob bosses after him because of a botched hit that wasn’t even really botched. Yet, it doesn’t feel like it maintains that structure but that the story itself allows us to get a sense of this imaginary, culturally mashed up reality. Zen calm amidst a cultural storm.

Check this scene for a sampling, which is itself, an offplot device. The samurai-esque Ghost Dog is seen walking and in the other direction, camo fatigue clad RZA. They meet and exchange the following. RZA: “Ghost Dog, power, equality” GD: “Always see everything my brother”. Which translates to Peace if you take the take the first letters of the middle text and swap see for C.

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