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Ghost Dog - The Way of the Samurai
The film by director Jim Jarmusch, 1999


Article added in November 2000
In Ghost Dog, written and directed by Jim Jarmusch, Forest Whitaker plays a strange killer, Ghost Dog, who lives on a tenement rooftop and follows the code of behavior outlined in Hagakure: The Book of the Samurai which says: "Meditation on inevitable death should be performed daily. And every day, without fail, one should consider himself as dead." At various moments throughout the film, Ghost Dog remembers passages of Hagakure to guide him.
 
Years ago, Louie (John Tormey), a local gangster, saved Ghost Dog from some white guys who were beating him up. As an adult, Ghost Dog became Louie's killer for special missions. Ghost Dog only communicates with the Mafia man through homing pigeons, cooped on the rooftop where he lives. One day, Louie orders Ghost Dog to kill Handsome Frank (Richard Portnow). Unfortunately, the hit is witnessed by the Louise (Tricia Vessey), the daughter of the mobster Ray Vargo (Henry Silva). Therefore, the boss wants Ghost Dog killed. Louie is not very happy with the decision since Ghost Dog had executed some 12 perfect contracts in the past four years. He is like a ghost, very valuable and untraceable. Ghost Dog would surely have pulled back if he had known that there was a woman at the crime scene too.
 
Louie only contacts Ghost Dog once a year, on the first day of autumn. He does not know where the killer lives. He had only seen the big black guy when Ghost Dog was beaten up. The black guy contacted him later, and that was the last time he had seen him in the flesh. Ghost Dog had told him then that he owed Louie a favor and that's how he became the mob's contract killer. Louis: "The guy is weird but has shown me respect. He's a professional, going after him is dangerous." But Sonny Valerio (Cliff Gorman), another of Ray Vargo's men, does not change his decision because of the touching story. Ghost Dog must die. Louie has no chance if he does not want to get killed himself. Hagakure says that it is considered the ultimate disgrace to allow one's Master to be killed (a samurai without a master is called a Ronin). A showdown becomes inevitable, and Ghost Dog sends a cryptic message to his foes. Ray Vargo realizes what it is: "That's poetry. The poetry of war". But the story is not that simple because Ghost Dog recites Hagakure which not only says that "everything happens for a reason", but also that "a Samurai has to be loyal to his boss, whatever happens".
 
There are some funny moments in the film. When Louie reveals to his mobster colleagues that the killer's name is Ghost Dog, they begin to discuss all sorts of names. Sonny states that rappers have special names, his favorite is a member of Public Enemy, Flavor Flav. Ray Vargo takes the analogy to famous Indian names such as Crazy Horse and Black Elk. Then, the elderly mobster, surrounded by his middle aged followers, begins to imitate an elk.
 
Forest Whitaker, one of the best African-American actors, probably even the African-American actor, plays the part of Ghost Dog with his usual sensitivity and touching fragility, his soft voice and smooth movements, all that despite - or better because of - his 250 pounds and six-foot two height. But he has some weaker moments, e.g. when he exercises with a sword and other weapons on the rooftop. Despite Forest Whitaker's performance, Jim Jarmusch's story does not hold together. There are several clever elements such as an ice cream van owned by a French speaking ice-cream salesman, Raymond, who comes from Haiti and does not speak a word of English. Ghost Dog, in return, does not speak French. Still, they consider each other best friends. There is also a little girl, Pearline (Camille Winbush), to whom Ghost Dog talks about Japanese books. All these bizarre and amusing elements do not build up to a coherent film. Of course, Ghost Dog reads in Hagakure that "life is a succession of moments", but that's no excuse for a good movie which lacks the ultimate ingredient to be a great one.


 
Biography: Forest Whitaker was born in Longview, Texas, in 1961. His father was an insurance salesman and his mother a special-education teacher. His family moved to California when he was a baby. Due to his height and weight, Forest Whitaker was a successful high school football player, which won him a scholarship to Pomona College. In his freshman year, he appeared in college stage productions and was discovered by a Hollywood agent. In 1982, he got his first small movie part in the comedy Fast Times At Ridgemont High. Forest Whitaker also excelled as a tenor and his voice won him a classical music scholarship at USC. Later, he won a special scholarship (created especially for him) to the Drama Studio of London. In 1985, he appeared in Vision Quest and in North and South. In 1986, he played in North and South II, in Oliver Stone's Platoon and in Martin Scorsese's The Color of Money. In 1987, Whitaker had a part in Stakeout and in Barry Levinson's Good Morning Vietnam. His first lead role came in 1988 in Clint Eastwood's Bird, where he played the role of the saxophone legend Charlie Parker. His brother, Damon Whitaker, was cast to play a younger Parker. Forest's performance was awarded the Best Actor's trophy at the Cannes Film Festival in France; it also won him a nomination for a Golden Globe. Whitaker played in Johnny Handsome (1990), in Criminal Justice (1990), for which he received a Cable ACE nomination, in A Rage in Harlem (1991), in Diary of a Hit Man (1992) and in Consenting Adults (1992). In 1992, he starred in Neil Jordan's The Crying Game as Jody, a kidnapped British soldier. Whitaker appeared in Abel Ferrara's Body Snatchers (1993), in Bank Robber (1993), in Robert Altman's Prêt-à-Porter (1994), in Jason's Lyric (1994), in The Enemy Within (1994) which earned him a Screen Actor's Guild Award nomination, in Blown Away (1994), in Wayne Wang's Smoke (1995), in Roger Donaldson's Species (1995) and in John Turtletaubs Phenomenon (1996). After a few small projects, Forest directed his first big-budget effort, the HBO drama Strapped for which he received Best New Director honors at the Toronto Film Festival. In 1995 came his big screen debut as director with  Waiting to Exhale. In 1998, he directed Second Chance with Sandra Bullock, Harry Connick Jr. and Gena Rowlands. In 1996, Forest Whitaker married model Keisha Nash. They have two daughters (Sonnet Noel and True Summer). From a previous relationship, he has a son named Ocean. [Added on April 20, 2007: in 2007, Forest Whitaker won the Academy Award for Best Actor for his portrayal of the Ugandan dictator Idi Amin Dada in the film The Last King of Scotland. Whitaker's best performance ever. Get the outstanding film on DVD from Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk].
 
Biography: Jim Jarmusch was born on January 22, 1953, in Akron, Ohio. He graduated from Cayahoga Falls High School in 1971. The same summer, he went to Northwestern University, majored in Journalism and studied for a year. Then, he changed his major to English Literature, and went to study in Paris, France. There, he discovered the French Cinema and decided to stay a whole year. Back in the United States, he transferred to Columbia University where he received a B.A. in English Literature. Afterwards, he went to the Tisch School of the arts in New York City to study film. In the Big Apple, he got a job as a teacher's assistant to director Nicholas Ray (Rebel Without a Cause) in a director's workshop at NYU. They became friends and Ray later helped Jarmusch with his first feature film, Permanent Vacation (1982), acclaimed by critics. Jarmusch expanded his graduation project, the 30-minute short film, New World into the Stranger Than Paradise (1984), which won him the Camera d'Or for best new director at the Cannes Film Festival. In 1986, Jarmusch directed Down By Law, a film in the same style. In 1987 Jarmusch won the Best Artistic Contribution Prize at the Cannes Film Festival for Mystery Train. Jim Jarmusch writes all scripts himself and occasionally plays small parts in the films of other directors.
 

 
 
List of his film credits - filmography of Jim Jarmusch:

1999 Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai Director, Screenplay
1997 Divine Trash Documentary Subject
1997 Year of the Horse Director
1996 Cannes Man Cameo
1996 Sling Blade Actor
1995 Dead Man Director, Screenplay
1995 The Typewriter, the Rifle and the Movie Camera Actor
1995 Blue in the Face Actor
1994 Tigero: a film that was never made Actor
1994 Iron Horseman Actor
1993 When Pigs Fly Executive Producer
1993 Coffee and Cigarettes III (somewhere in California) Director
1992 In the Soup Actor
1991 Night on Earth Screenplay
1990 The Golden Boat Actor
1989 Mystery Train Director, Screenwriter
1989 Leningrad Cowboys Go America Actor
1988 Helsinki Napoli All Night Long Actor
1988 Coffee and Cigarettes II Director, Screenwriter
1987 Straight to Hell Actor
1987 Candy Mountain Actor
1986 Sleepwalk Camera Operator
1986 Down By Law Director
1986 Coffee and Cigarettes Director, Screenwriter
1984 Stranger Than Paradise Director, Screenwriter, Music
1983 Burroughs Sound
1982 Permanent Vacation Producer, Director, Screenwriter, Music
1982 Fräulein Berlin Actor
1980 Underground U.S.A. Sound
1980 Lightning Over Water Production Assistant


Characters........................actors

Ghost Dog........Forest Whitaker
Louie.......................John Tormey
Sonny Valerio.........Cliff Gorman
Louise Vargo........Tricia Vessey
Ray Vargo................Henry Silva
Johnny Morini.....Vince Viverito
Pearline............Camille Winbush
 

Get Ghost Dog on DVD from Amazon.com, Amazon Canada, Amazon.de, Amazon.co.uk, Amazon.fr.









Deutsch Politik Geschichte Kunst Film Musik Lebensart Reisen
English Politics History Art Film Music Lifestyle Travel
Français Politique Histoire Arts Film Musique Artdevivre Voyages
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 © Copyright  www.cosmopolis.ch  Louis Gerber All rights reserved.