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Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai (Blu-Ray Review)

3 min read

StudioCanal

This piece was written during the 2023 WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes. Without the labour of the writers and actors currently on strike, the movie being covered here wouldn't exist.

Almost all of 's films have a certain, inexplicable sense of cool to them that few films are able to replicate. From the loveable trio escaping prison in Down By Law to the vampires of Only Lovers Left Alive, Jarmusch's approach to writing characters and dialogue has always been as charming as it is fascinating. 

() may be the most interesting character Jarmusch has ever written. He is, first and foremost, a social outcast who largely lives in the shadows. Ghost Dog loves to read, showing a particular interest in ancient Japanese literature, including Rashomon. His personal bible is Hagakure: The Book of the Samurai by Yamamoto Tsunetomo. He follows the lessons set out in this book and uses it as guidance for his lifestyle.

It is because of Hagakure's teachings that Ghost Dog is a hit-man for a local mafia. Not only is he a mysterious fan of Japanese writing, though. Ghost Dog also loves music, from contemporary hip-hop to experimental jazz, and his carrier pigeons. His interest in weaponry and the art of war is seen in his approach to killing his targets. He is cold and methodical, but still respectful and caring towards his targets.

The film features what is easily the best performance of Forest Whitaker's career. He gives a special performance which helps to bring a very well written, surprisingly complex character to life. Ghost Dog is a thief and a murderer, but he is also full of love for the world around him which is expressed through his interest in art and his ability to communicate with almost literally anybody. His best friend Raymond (Isaach De Bankole) only speaks French, for example, but the two still find a way to  understand each other. Multiple scenes see the two speak to one another and almost always saying exactly the same thing.

StudioCanal

The film's score, by the RZA of hip-hop group the Wu-Tang Clan, is catchy and brooding. The soundtrack is able to navigate the space between a noir-ish moodiness to a quieter, more emotional sense of grieving. Robby Muller's cinematography, elevated by the film's new 4K restoration, is grainy and gritty but still beautiful with its smooth, gliding camera movements. 

Jarmusch's script, beyond its brilliant dialogue and its frequent conversational hilarity, is also a poignant study of modern culture. Ghost Dog studies how culture is being forced through change by modernity and questions whether or not those changes are positive. The film doesn't come to any particular conclusions with that argument, but it does embrace all types of art. The ancient Japanese texts are just as important as the games of chess in the park. The improvised rapping by groups of friends share equal importance with the cartoons that the mob are constantly watching.

Ghost Dog: is an undeniably beautiful film, one which oozes cool and swagger as it questions where all of the love we give to the world ends up.

Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai will be released by StudioCanal on October 23rd.