Quick-Thoughts: Jim Jarmusch’s Ghost Dog The Way of the Samurai (1999)

Jim Jarmusch Marathon Part VII of VII

“There’s one good thing about this Ghost Dog guy… He’s sending us out in the old way.”

If Martin Scorsese won’t incorporate hip-hop into his mafia pictures, then by God let there be Jarmusch. 

What’s taken me the most aback after following all of Jim Jarmusch’s feature-length work from the 20th century — especially as we approach the 90s — has effortlessly been from his drive to always experiment with genres. Somehow his last feature Dead Man (1995) and this are both about men with hits on them who must confront their makers, and yet, they feel almost as if they operate on polar wavelengths thematically in their respected western and underground worlds. I think out of all the movies of his so far, Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai gives into formula the most with its simple plot that takes from anti-hero classics such as Le Samouraï (1967), Taxi Driver (1976), Leon: The Professional (1994), etc. but it does so in such an aesthetically unique way that you can’t help but not be too bothered.

In terms of style, this may be the most charmed I’ve been by Jarmusch since Down by Law (1986). The meticulous birds-eye view location scouting, the psychedelic editing, the old cartoon correlations, and call me a millennial, but I much prefer RZA’s score over Neil Young’s in Dead Man. The movie is additionally quite textbook dorky even for Jarmusch’s standards, expressing code after code of the old yet lost Samurai ways, setting the stage for a story about dying cultures eating each other alive behind the unstoppable modern ones; it makes the film unusually transparent as compared to his previous features, which could plausibly be a byproduct of Dead Man’s initially mixed reception stemming from its idiosyncratic (yet totally wicked and superior in my opinion) indulgences. It makes Ghost Dog conventionally undemanding to consume given its familiar plot brimmed with badass action sequences that meet grounds with these crystal clear — literally often accompanied by written quotations — moral links to the narrative arcs, but admittedly, it left me pondering and remembering far less about its content compared to Jarmusch’s other films.

Still, it only convinced me further for why I admire Jarmusch so much after this marathon: he isn’t afraid to tackle any sector of cinematic (and even musical!) approach without completely sacrificing his golden trademark for crafting authentic character relationships — the linguistically incompatible-compatible friendship of Ghost Dog and Raymond was particularly beautiful!

Verdict: B-

Jim Jarmusch Ranked

“Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai” is now available to stream on The Criterion Channel.

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