Ghost Dog The Way of the Samurai (1999) Forest Whitaker And Jim Jamusch Follow The Code

Ghost Dog The Way of the Samurai (1999) Forest Whitaker poster dvd bluray cover art work

Mister Ghost Dog (Forest Whitaker) has just jacked a nice slick car for our journey through the City streets. He selects his pre-recorded CDR mixtape and off we cruise through the dark neighborhood. No words, just nodding and contemplating.

Tagline – All assassins live beyond the law… only one follows the code…

Ghost Dog The Way of the Samurai (1999) Forest Whitaker hitman stolen car cd cdr music

Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai is one cool as fuck film. On so many levels. Scene to scene it effortlessly portrays style. It’s deeply sad in its nature, helped along with Forest’s sorrowful demeanour. However it features pitch perfect black comedy at every turn. This gangster and hitman drama whole inner essence resembles more of a traditional western. And somehow it manages to also fuse African American, Italian and Japanese cultures together within it’s narrative. Further that, it features a soundtrack that keeps your head rocking. Every aspect of this film sweetly, perfectly, just bubbles away.

Ghost Dog The Way of the Samurai (1999) Forest Whitaker reading Hagakure

Ghost Dog is our anti hero. A once bruised, battered and bullied kid now filled with a deep honor and a code. Personally indebted to an old Italian gangster called Louie (John Tormey) for saving his life. Ghost Dog repays his debt, with respect to Louie, carrying out contract jobs. You see, Ghost Dog is a hitman. He abides by a strict code. Followed step by step through the ancient traditional spiritual and warrior code teachings within his beloved book, Hagakure by Yamamoto Tsunetomo.

Ghost Dog –In the words of the ancients, one should make his decision within the space of seven breaths. It is a matter of being determined and having the spirit to break through to the other side.

His name, Ghost Dog, sums him up. A lone wolf. Stealth like, invisible, like a ghost. A man deep in thought. He keeps himself to himself, well apart from his feather friends. Surrounded by his beloved pigeons he shadow spars and meditates within the open space of the rooftop. No one knows what he does. No one knows hes a deadly efficient killer. With no phone the only contact to his work is directly through Louie with the use of a tiny message tied to the foot of a pigeon.

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Louie –For the past four years, he’s done, maybe, twelve perfect contracts. Perfect, Like a ghost.

You see, Ghost Dog is a hitman. A hired assassin for the mob. The dying last breed of aging Italian gangsters, sit, hanging on to what little turf they have left. Huddled together these old men occupy the back room of what was once probably a thriving Italian restaurant but now replaced with a Chinese takeaway.

Whereas Ghost Dog’s scenes are, cool, deep and sad, the gangsters on the other hand give us the dark humour of the film.

Ghost Dog The Way of the Samurai (1999) Henry Silva Ray Vargo Cliff Gorman Sonny Valerio Gene Ruffini

The gangsters are lost in the past. Still trying to hold on to the old ways. Oblivious to the fact they are not what they were. The old guard are dying. The youth have moved on. The organisation hung together by three men sitting around around a table. The shouting deaf toothless pensioner (Gene Ruffini), an intense chiseled psychotic looking mobster in his twilight years with an insanely over tense stare called Ray Vargo (Henry Silva).  And lastly and best of all the Flavor Flav rap rhyming lyrical dropping gangster and spokesman, Sonny Valerio (Cliff Gorman)

Sonny Valerio –My favorite was always Flavor Flav from Public Enemy. You got the funky fresh fly flavor.

Ghost Dog The Way of the Samurai (1999) Forest Whitaker sword roof top cult film

Ghost Dogs methods are perfect. His hits meticulously worked out. Always clean. No mistakes. Perfection. A new job is received from his trusty feathered friend. His hit? To take out Handsome Frank (Richard Portnow). One thing is different, out of his control! Incompetent useless gangsters! The plan still works. Just one change? Ray Vargo’s daughter witnesses the hit. Now old gangsters and their morals can be unpredictable. Ghost Dog finds himself now the hit, the hunted. The Italian’s are all, “Who is this black bear like, pigeon loving man? I want him dead!! You hear? Dead.” Putting in motion a whole chain of painful events.

Sonny Valerio – It’s time to tell us everything you know about this mysterious, ghost-like, untraceable, fuckin’ button man. He needs to be neutralized. Erased from the face of the planet.

Ghost Dog The Way of the Samurai (1999) Forest Whitaker hitman gun silencer blue suit

Now what’s so imaginative and beautifully put across is Forest Whitaker’s performance. He’s far removed from being a traditional stealth like, professionally hitman. Especially with his big hulking bear like frame but Forest couldn’t be more perfect for the part. Obsessively learning the art form of passed down teachings from ancient samurai warriors. He tip toes like mouse, hides within the shadows and strikes with the power and precision of a snake.

Ghost Dog –According to what one of the elders said, taking an enemy on the battlefield is like a hawk taking a bird. Even though it enters into the midst of a thousand of them, it gives no attention to any bird than the one it first marked.

As I say at the beginning, this film is beautiful in its set scenes. The relaxed approach to film making. Quiet thoughtful moments. Ghost Dog sat on a park bench. A young girl sits and watches him. A dog stares him out. An ice cream is bought. We sit in the passenger seat of a stolen car and listen to Ghost Dogs hand picked tunes. We look out the window watching the night city streets hustle and bustle. One of the truly remarkable scenes is the friendship between his only friend Raymond (Isaach De Bankolé) the French speaking ice cream seller. They both chat away not understanding what each other says. Yet beautifully they do. Happy to be in conversation together. A close bond.

Ghost Dog The Way of the Samurai (1999) Forest Whitaker Isaach De Bankolé

A Few Things About The Film.

Ghost Dog The Way of the Samurai (1999) Forest Whitaker sleeping with Jim Jarmusch directing.

  • Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai is directed by the brilliant Jim Jamusch. Such a creative writer and filmmaker. I loved most of his films especially Stranger Than Paradise (1984) Down By Law (1986) Mystery Train (1989) and Broken Flowers (2005).  Though I would say Ghost Dog is my personal favourite. Looking through his filmography I’ve some how missed Night On Earth (1991) and Dead Man (1995) so I can’t wait to visit them. And I’m not sure what to do about his new one? The Dead Don’t Die (2019). I was so excited about his take on a zombie film but then the reviews started coming in. Hopefully it will come to Netflix soon.

Ghost Dog The Way of the Samurai (1999) Forest Whitaker meets respect RZA soundtrack

  • The soundtrack is by rapper, record producer and beat maker RZA. Featuring tracks by Wu-Tang Clan, Killah Priest, and Public Enemy. My favourite tune in the film is when Willie Williams record Armageddon Time blasts from the car stereo system.

Ghost Dog The Way of the Samurai (1999) Henry Silva in La mala ordina (1972)

  • Cult legend and total bad ass Henry Silva is perfect as one of the head gangsters. He’s been in the film game since 1950 and appears mostly typed cast as the villain. With those distinctive looks he was destined to be the ultimate bad guy. And rightly became the legend that he is. An iconic cult film fav. B-movies would later come but he appeared alongside Frank Sinatra in Ocean’s 11 (1960) and The Manchurian Candidate (1962). I need to see his Italian films like The Boss (1973) and The Italian Connection (1972) plus one I’ve been itching to get too for years, as it sounds cool as fuck, Johnny Cool (1963). Ghost Dog has become his last film apart from a cameo homage in Ocean’s Eleven (2001)

Rashomon - 1951

  • There’s lots of nods to classic Japanese films with the likes of the classic Rashomon (1950) with it’s theme of people seeing different versions of the same event. And the gun shot through the sinks drain pipe was from director Seijun Suzuki’s amazing film Branded To Kill (1967).

It’s hard to come across a film as effortlessly cool as Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai. From a career high performance from Forest Whitaker in a role specially written for him by Jamusch. A few of the little things I love are the muted friendship, the respect shown on the street, the cartoon loving gangsters, the way Ghost Dog uses his gun like a samurai sword.  The quiet moments of reflection, the soundtrack, the sadness and the humour. Everything is perfection for me.

I walked out the cinema with the biggest smile on my face. I knew I’d just witness a perfect film for me. Everything right on-point. I knew I’d be revisiting this movie over and over. I was right.

Hey thanks for popping in. Keep loving film. All the best… Mikey Wolf

10 thoughts on “Ghost Dog The Way of the Samurai (1999) Forest Whitaker And Jim Jamusch Follow The Code

  1. I think that The Dead Don’t Die will be seen by some who don’t get it much because they’re expecting Zombieland or Sean of the Dead or something else, but I’ll also be one watching for a Cable premiere, as it’s on my long, long (looooooong) list of stuff to see in the future.

    I pay not too much attention to some reviews because there seems to be a hive mind at work when it comes to some folks glomming onto a negative review by writing one that they can add to the pile of hate some things get.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Very true and very wise words there Gary. (Have you been reading Ghost Dog’s book I wonder?) Hehe. Yeah everyone seems out to eat themselves at the moment. A hive mind of trolls. I’m ready for the slow pace of Jamusch and that could be the reason with exceptions. Maybe it did go off the rails a bit but I’m sure it can’t be all that bad. I’m looking forward to seeing it soon too buddy.

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  2. Great pick and a film I’m long overdue to revisit. I remember really liking it back in the day. You know in a huge fan of Silva and those Italian titles are really good as is his role in Sharkys Machine. I’ve also been a fan of Whitakers since he first hit the screen back in the 80s. One early role that always stands out is when he hustles Paul Newman in color of money. Cheers.

    Liked by 1 person

    • That’s amazing about Forest being in The Color of Money. I’ve only seen it when it came out and I never realised he was in it. But remembering the scene is giving me flashes of his little performance. Great film. Re-watch needed…. Obviously I knew him from Platoon and Good Morning Vietnam first, oh and Stakeout and even Bird but I don’t think I really clocked his name till The Crying Game. Then he just appeared everywhere. Such a talented actor.
      PS Sharkys Machine need as rewatch too. How could I forget Silva was in that!!!
      I do remember Dick Tracy! The happy make-up guy had an easy day on set LOL…

      Liked by 2 people

  3. I’ve only seen two of Jarmusch’s films, Broken Flowers and The Dead Don’t Die; I really liked the first, and was disappointed with the second. I guess I just expected more from it…not necessarily more zombies, but more…character smarts, maybe? I had the same problem with The Walking Dead, and gave up after two seasons…what a collection of morons! But I did really like the character interactions in The Dead Don’t Die…I’ll give it that!

    And just so you’re aware: my introduction to Forest Whitaker was in Fast Times at Ridgemont High! Also, your passion for Ghost Dog has me wanting to see it now. So thanks for adding another film to my long ‘must see’ list!

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    • I’m sure you will really like Ghost Dog Todd. It’s ace. Yeah I might like it a little too much but it just hit that sweet spot for me.
      I loved the first series of The Walking Dead then got bored with season two and left it. They never left the blooming barn! Then somebody told me that it picked up at the end. So I went back. Season 3 and 4 were very good. Then HAHA like you say “what a collection of morons” It just got silly and then just too violent for me and I bailed out. I hear it’s still going and still going nowhere!!
      Fast Times at Ridgemont High! What a superb film. I didn’t get to see it until the late 80s. Shamefully I didn’t realise at the time it was Forest.
      Yeah these long “must see” list are getting out of hand. Mine has over 700 films on it!!
      Hope you well buddy and you got sometime off for the festive season?

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      • I keep thinking about going back to ‘The Walking Dead’, but I keep telling myself ‘No!’, don’t do it! I found a short one-season zombie show on Netflix called ‘Black Summer’, and started getting into it…and soon the same character density kept occurring, and I found myself getting frustrated all over again. Why can’t zombie apocalypse survivors ever be smart?

        And I have PLENTY of time off for the festive season! I’m…ahem…’in between’ jobs at the moment. Hope you get some time off as well…might be a good chance to get caught up on those 700 films! (I just watched ‘Across the Pacific’…now my list is down to 1,299!)

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  4. You managed to put into words what makes Ghost Dog such a great film. I like the unusual combination of gangster/samurai/ black comedy/etc. “Effortlessly cool ” is a good description.

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