90s US Bracket: Ghost Dog: The Way Of The Samurai (1999)


The first film in my only match-up in the fifth round of the 90s US Bracket!

Written By: Jim Jarmusch
Directed By: Jim Jarmusch

I’ve always found it amusing how some movies stick with you through time. Admittedly I am the dude who remembers everything, but even then as far as movies go unless a movie completely blows me away it’s more vague recollections than a complete remembrance. Ghost Dog: The Way Of The Samurai by no means blew me away when I saw it for the first time oh so many years ago. In fact I remember thinking it was a borderline decent movie, but nothing to get worked up over. However, it’s images and theme stuck with me to the point where I could remember the movie wholesale. At first I thought this was merely because it was an eccentric movie and had left its unique mark on me. Subsequent returns to the world of aging gangsters and a lone black samurai warrior proved that it wasn’t just the eccentricities of Ghost Dog: The Way Of The Samurai that stuck with me, but the tone and delivery of the picture.

I don’t usually like to say things like, “this picture had a decidedly independent feel” but in the case of Ghost Dog: The Way Of The Samurai there is no way around that. It isn’t a small movie by any means, but it is a movie that gives off an anti-Hollywood vibe in every scene. I will admit to finding this charming in a lot of pictures, but Ghost Dog: The Way Of The Samurai strikes a chord with me that other pictures don’t. It blends a unique tone with a subject matter that I find appealing and a presentation style that draws me in. It may not be a great picture, but Ghost Dog: The Way Of The Samurai remains an interesting one that I never mind revisiting.

My musical tastes run all over the board, personally I feel everyone should be this way because restricting yourself to certain styles means you are missing out on truly great material. The Wu-Tang Clan became favorites of mine the moment I heard them and it took mere moments of listening to the score of Ghost Dog: The Way Of The Samurai to recognize their influence. Once I saw that RZA was the man behind the music in the film, that meant it was an instant hit with me. The music sets the tone for the film right off the bat, it’s a bit off kilter and out of sync, just like the films main character and his code of ethics. There are some movies where I can’t imagine the film with a different score, and Ghost Dog: The Way Of The Samurai is one of those films.

Much like the off beat nature of the score, the gangsters are a bit off beat as well. These aren’t Scorsese gangsters, these aren’t the rich and powerful gangsters. The gangsters in Ghost Dog: The Way Of The Samurai are weak and feeble, clutching to what little power they have left. They are different from Ghost Dog, yet they are somehow the same. Both the gangsters and Ghost Dog are clinging to times lone gone by, adhering to codes that no longer apply and unable to adapt to the outside world as a result.

In my notes I wrote, “French dude is awesome” and that’s all I ever say about Isaach De Bankolé every time I see him on my screen. Dude is plain awesome in every role he’s in, I don’t have any concrete reason for this, he just is. Forest Whitaker plays his part seriously and that is a great thing because while Ghost Dog: The Way Of The Samurai is a movie with comedic moments, it’s not a comedy. I already touched on the gangsters, but each and every one of them were very good in their roles.

I wish I only had positive things to say about the movie, but there was quite a bit that bugged me, mostly little things, but the little things add up. While all the violence and killings were effectively brutal and quick, the use of the blur effect in the mansion raid was unnecessary and distracting. On that front, I didn’t have much of a problem with the blur effect in the Kata sequence, but when Ghost Dog starts to shadow box he looks like a dude who doesn’t know how to fight.

We were taken to the flashback origin three different times, but only one of those times works, when told from the perspective of Louie. The other two times the flashbacks seem out of place. Much in the same way that the scene with the martial arts grocery robbery also seems out of place. Lastly, I understand the purpose the voice over narratives served, but they did become a bit too much. The same can be said for Ghost Dog’s suitcase of gadgets, in that realm the film entered James Bond territory when it never really should have.

While the flaws in Ghost Dog: The Way Of The Samurai are all small ones, they do, as I said, add up. There is plenty to like about Ghost Dog: The Way Of The Samurai, and I happen to love a lot of it. But, those flaws do drag the film down a bit. I still love the film and get a charge out of watching it every time, but it never quite reaches great movie territory with me. Of course for saying this publicly I fully expect my life to end the next time I brush my teeth!




2 responses to “90s US Bracket: Ghost Dog: The Way Of The Samurai (1999)

  1. The voice over is not not the greatest ever used in film, I would agree with that. I’m also not the biggest fan of the blur effect. Still, I really, really loved the overall style and tone of the film. The notion of having ‘the samurai’ live and breath in a late 20th century urban environment had me excited pretty much throughout the film.

    The weakest part in my opinion was actually the climax. It’s not bad, but felt perhaps a bit lost with everything that had come before it.

    Nonetheless, the film received a standing ovation in my apartment when I watched it, which is why you had to watch it now for the U.S. bracket.

  2. This is a film that has grown on my over time, so there is a lot of merit in what you wrote.

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