Ghost Dog: Way Of The Samurai (1999)
Genre: Samurai Crime Drama Thriller (USA, France, Germany, Japan)
Starring: Forest Whitaker (Good Morning Vietnam, Platoon), John Tormey (The Curse of The Jade Scorpion, Game 6)
Directed By: Jim Jarmusch (Dead Man, Broken Flowers)
Overview: A modern-day samurai discovers he is targeted by the mob. He must skirt that line between survival and undying loyalty to his mobster master.
Acting: Forest Whitaker is very much like a ninja. He's versatile. He can act coy or calculating, he can be deep and introspective one minute, absent-minded and goofy the next. He's one of those actors who probably will never be typecast, and he's very lucky for that. What more perfect role for a ninja than a samurai? Don't start the debate about how they're totally different and one has no honour. It's a metaphor. He kicks ass, he's soft-spoken, it's cool, and so are all the classic gangsters that make up the supporting cast.
Cinematography: The filming aproach here is simplistic, but the action and the scenes chosen are very interesting. From smooth and stylin' shootouts to quiet and sneaky stalking scenes, we have a strong understanding of the layout of this man's life, be it his roof-top serenity or his lonely existence in his small apartment. The film also uses cartoons for foreshadowing and imagery in much the same way Edward James Olmos origamied in Blade Runner. A nice touch.
Script: Throughout the movie, we constantly have references with quotes from the book Hagakure, a samurai's guide to Bushido, the Warrior's Code. In much the same way as the cartoons foreshadow the events relevant to the mafia, the Hagakure foreshadows the actions of Ghost Dog. By narrating in this way we learn the code itself, that thing that drives our protagonist to act in the manner he does, but it also spares us the all too-obvious expositionary narrative that so many people have issues with. As for the actual dialogue you'll find the speeches of the mobsters to be quirky, witty, funny and even strange, a nice little game for the mind to follow.
Plot: Essentially the story is about a hitman who has become a liability and old school mobsters try to clean up the problem. In that typical Lone Wolf way, our recluse is hard to find and has a few tricks up his sleeve, but the beauty of this is that it's a philosophical action film, and though it's full of blood and violence, it's very introspective and rooted in reason, rather than killing for killing's sake.
Mood: If you can't do katas like a pro, don't do them at all. It tends to kill the mood a little. If you've seen wicked-awesome samurai films, then you know that when a samurai puts away their katana, they do it in this ceremonious style that means respect and diss in the same sweeping arc, all while cleaning the blade of the blood. Forest does this with his pistols in a tributary fashion, but it doesn't quite work. Besides these minor issues, we have here what I would call a cool cocktail of African-American urban gangster, NYC old-school mafia and a twist of ancient Japanese ethic. Totally awesome, hello.
Overall Rating: 84% (Follow The Way)
Aftertaste: I'm not a fan of the Wu Tang. I don't dig the RZA (who did the music for this) and the GZA (pronounced jizz-ah, exactly, ew), but the inner-city urban feel was tremendously enhanced by their contribution here. The way Ghost Dog listens to this music serves to perfectly bridge the gap between the ancient days and the now. It proves that he's not an obsessive, crazy man out of touch. He's a black man who changed his philosophy on life but he lives in a place he understands and stays true to that. I'm surprised how well a white boy from Ohio managed to do that so well... Course what do I know, I'm a white kid from the suburbs too...