7.5/10
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Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai (1999)

An African American mafia hit man who models himself after the samurai of old finds himself targeted for death by the mob.

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1 win & 7 nominations. See more awards »

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Cast

Cast overview, first billed only:
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Dennis Liu ...
Frank Minucci ...
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Gene Ruffini ...
Frank Adonis ...
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Kenny Guay ...
Vince Viverito ...
Gano Grills ...
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Storyline

A hitman who lives by the code of the samurai, works for the mafia and finds himself in their crosshairs when his recent job doesn't go according to plan. Now he must find a way to defend himself and his honor while retaining the code he lives by. Written by Scott Jarreau

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Taglines:

All assassins live beyond the law... only one follows the code See more »


Motion Picture Rating (MPAA)

Rated R for strong violence and language | See all certifications »

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Details

Official Sites:

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Release Date:

24 March 2000 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

Ghost Dog  »

Filming Locations:

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Box Office

Opening Weekend:

FRF 5,895,446 (France) (14 October 1999)

Gross:

$3,308,029 (USA)
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Company Credits

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Technical Specs

Runtime:

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Aspect Ratio:

1.85 : 1
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Did You Know?

Trivia

Every time Ghost Dog is in a car and puts the music on, he turns the volume up to level 21. See more »

Goofs

When Ghost Dog steals the second car, we see the instruments on the dashboard. As he flicks the ignition switch with his code-breaking gizmo the engine starts; still the needle on the tachometer does not move. See more »

Quotes

[first lines]
Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai is found in death. Meditation on inevitable death should be performed daily. Every day when one's body and mind are at peace, one should meditate upon being ripped apart by arrows, rifles, spears, and swords. Being carried away by surging waves. Being thrown into the midst of a great fire. Being struck by lightning, being shaken to death by a great earthquake. Falling from thousand-foot cliffs, dying of disease, or committing seppuku at the death of one's ...
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Crazy Credits

The second to last person thanked at the credits' close is Akira Kurosawa--the Japanese filmmaker who filmed one of the Ghost Dog's central texts, Rashomon. See more »

Connections

Referenced in Homestarrunner.com: Everything Else, Volume 2 (2006) See more »

Soundtracks

Armagideon Time
Performed by Willie Williams
Written by Willie Williams and Coxsone Dodd (as Clement Dodd)
Published by Jamrec Publishing (BMI)
Administered by Happy Valley Music (BMI)
Courtesy of Studio One/Heartbeat Records
By Arrangement with Ocean Park Music Group
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User Reviews

 
One of the most unique and daringly good films in years



Ghost Dog: Way of the Samurai

* * * * Stars

Forest Whitaker stars in this amazingly good character driven film. Whitaker is Ghost Dog, a New York hitman who lives by the code of the ancient samurai. When a job for the mob goes wrong they decide to cut their losses and put a hit out on him. But since he's a samurai and not just a normal hitman this proves to be a huge mistake for them.

This film really works on three levels. First is the duality of the film's coolness factor and the strength of Whitaker's performance. Whitaker radiates cool in this film. In every scene and every frame, through both action and inaction we know he is being of awesome power. His performance is note perfect. There's one scene where a grievous wrong has been done and we see Whitaker absorb the devastation, then he narrates that when a making decision it should be done in the space of seven breathes. Once that decision is made and we realize Whitaker's full fury will now be unleashed upon his enemies, it sends a tingle up the spine of the viewer. Whitaker's resolve shines through the screen and through his subsequent acting the pace builds until we reach the film's ultimate battle, which is a really, really good fight scene-one of the most satisfying ever filmed.

Furthermore we have the film's philosophy. This aspect of the film is the most important of all even more so than Whitaker's superb performance. As the film's tale unfolds we do need learn about the Way of the Samurai through the eastern philosophy Whitaker espouses as he narrates the film. Often times the film breaks from the action just to linger on the narration and let in sink in. It's a technique that helps set the tone of the film and makes it a completely absorbing experience.

The third thing that the film does really well is it is character and not plot driven. At least just as much time is spent following Whitaker through his day to day life as he interacts with people in his community as is spent on the action parts of the plot. In many ways the film works as commentary on the values of modern society. The scenes with Whitaker and his best friend, a Haitian ice cream vendor provide this film with true heart and soul. We see repeatedly that the two friends can understand each other because they are at peace with the world and in tune with their surroundings, so that their bond transcends mere language. Ghost Dog also has a touching relationship with a young girl that he hopes to impart his code to so that she may one day have the tools of knowledge necessary to escape life in the inner city. These are characters that would have been interesting a two-hour film just living their lives without the samurai and hitman aspects of the film. However both aspects work exceptionally well, the effect taken as a whole make this one of the best films of the past few years.

Besides Whitaker and his friends, one other great performance is given by Tricia Vessey as Louise Vargo, the young girl that sets all that happens in motion. It's a small part but a key one that she does an admirable job with.

If there is a flaw with this film it is that the gangster villains are unnecessarily racist. These scenes are somewhat jarring on first viewing, but are at least consistent with the film's ultimate tone that the gangster's way of life is dying, while the code of the samurai is timeless. It is no coincidence that all the mobsters are much older than Whitaker. Both characters note numerous times that the world is changing, the difference is the gangsters say it with fear and trepidation, while Whitaker notices it as observation. Like the changing of the wind the changing of time and circumstance is neither good nor bad when weighed against his code.

While Whitaker deserves infinite praise for his performance, almost just as much praise must be given to director Jim Jarmush. His directing of this film is quite daring and even more skillfull. His approach to the narration is unusual and yet it works on multiple levels and lets us this is a film more about tone than action. The character driven film is a rare commodity. Most films are plot driven moving from point A to point B with no more creativity than a child connecting a dot-to-dot. Here we have a film that starts with its characters and lets them live the lives they've always lived before the central plot elements invaded their existence. The plot is addressed in a timely enough manner, but we see the characters have their own commitments to fulfill too. It's a hard trick to make a character driven film really work without seeming disjointed or slowly paced but Jarmush succeeds masterfully. Jarmush also fills the film with other references in the background that emphasize the character's natures-such as book on bears or the dialogue of a few cartoons here and there. Many films of try to do this, but few films I have ever seen do it as well as Ghost Dog does.

A final note, the ending of this film that is one that will be very divisive. People will either love it or hate, personally I loved it. It is an ending that is true to all that his come before for both the characters and their conflicting codes but also one that is both surprising despite being adequately foreshadowed.


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