An urban hitman, living by the code of samurai, is set up by his boss and is sentenced to be killed. Sounds like a cool film.
Forest Whitaker stars as “Ghost Dog”, a hermit who lives by killing for the mob. Ghost was rescued by his boss when he was a teenager. Years later, convinced he had a debt to repay to this mobster he returns to serve the mobster as quoted by the samurai code.
“Ghost Dog” is directed by infamous indie director Jim Jarmusch who has directed other indie hits “Night on Earth” and “Dead Man”. This is also his third time as screenwriter and director of his films.
Jarmusch’s style is a little means a lot and that is so true with the depiction of who and what “Ghost Dog” actually is. Is this man insane or is this a part of the world he is in? In other words, is he a victim of the society he is in?
Completely immersed in the code, we see a character cut off from society in mind and spirit. As the director opens the world of “Ghost Dog”, we begin to see that this isn’t exactly a world that lives by any sort of code except the right to survival.
This contradiction brings us to like the hero more. The mobsters and their motives, come off as greasy and unorganized as we notice that these aren’t the typical mob but just a group of hoods, underlings to the real mob. If they were the real mob where is their wealth and why does a landlord threaten to kick a mobster out if he doesn’t pay his rent?
My only nagging problem with “Ghost Dog” was that when the hero has his first ethical confrontation with the code he adores. He never shows any struggle and just does what the book tells him to do. Was that apart of his character or a flaw?
You could tell that the world unearthed by Jarmusch is in essence, a contradiction to our own and by doing so it becomes a reflection to a critique of society. There are a lot of images in this film and some I am still trying to understand. But my belief is that Ghost is trying to put a code of ethics in an already screwed up society and this is very commendable.
By coming to this conclusion, I believe that Ghost is “sane” and he uses the world of feudal Japan to control a little bit of order in a chaotic world. Evidence for my conclusion came when he passed on his code to another so that they may find that little bit of order he cherished.
3 out of 5
So Says the Soothsayer.
Written: April 10, 2000