Ghost Dog (Forest Whitaker) is a contract killer, a master of his trade who can whirl a gun at warp speed and moves through this world like a phantom stealthy and evanescent. In the spirit of the samurai, he has pledged his loyalty to a small time mobster named Louie (John Tormey) who saved his life many years before.
Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai is a 1999 American crime action film written and directed by Jim Jarmusch. Forest Whitaker stars as the title character, the mysterious "Ghost Dog", a hitman in the employ of the Mafia, who follows the ancient code of the samurai as outlined in the book of Yamamoto Tsunetomos recorded sayings, Hagakure. Critics have noted similarities between the movie and Jean-Pierre Melvilles 1967 film Le Samourai.
An African American mafia hit man who models himself after the samurai of old finds himself targeted for death by the mob.
Ghost Dog (Whitaker) sees himself as a retainer of Louie (John Tormey), a local mobster, who saved Ghost Dogs life years ago. While living as a hired hitman for the Italian Mafia, he adheres to the code of the samurai, and interprets and applies the wisdom of the Hagakure in his contracts for the mob.
Louie tells Ghost Dog to kill a gangster, Handsome Frank, who is sleeping with the daughter (Tricia Vessey) of the mafia boss Vargo (Henry Silva). Ghost Dog arrives and kills the gangster, before seeing that the girl is also in the room at the time; she lends him a book; he leaves her alive, and exits. In order to avoid being implicated in the murder of a made man, Vargo and his associate Sonny Valerio decide to get rid of Ghost Dog. Louie knows practically nothing about Ghost Dog, and the hitman communicates only by homing pigeon. The mobsters start by tracing all the pigeon coops in town. They find Ghost Dogs cabin atop a building and kill his pigeons. Ghost Dog realizes he must kill the entire mafia or otherwise they will kill him and his master.
During the day, Ghost Dog frequently visits the park to see his best friend, an ice cream salesman named Raymond (Isaach De Bankole) who speaks only French. Ghost Dog does not understand French and Raymond does not understand English, but the two seem to understand each other. Ghost Dog also makes friends with a little girl named Pearline (Camille Winbush), to whom he lends the book—Rashomon and Other Stories—he received from Vargos daughter. Paralleling a major theme of Rashomon, Louie and Ghost Dog have different accounts of the circumstances of their meeting: in Louies flashback he shoots Ghost Dogs attacker in self-defense, while in Ghost Dogs flashback, Louie shoots the attacker just as the attacker is about to kill Ghost Dog.
Eventually, Ghost Dog attacks Vargos mansion single-handedly and kills almost everyone he encounters, sparing only Louie and Vargos daughter. Though Louie feels some loyalty to Ghost Dog, he also feels that he must avenge the murder of boss Vargo, but it was stated that Vargos daughter ordered him to murder Ghost Dog. At night, Ghost Dog kills Sonny Valerio in his house, shooting a bullet through Valerio´s bathroom pipe.
Louie finally confronts Ghost Dog at Raymonds ice cream stand with Raymond and Pearline watching, after he gave his copy of Hagakure to the latter. Ghost Dog is unwilling to attack his master and allows Louie to kill him. His last act is to give Louie the copy of Rashomon and encourage him to read it.Forest Whitaker as Ghost Dog
John Tormey as Louie
Henry Silva as Ray Vargo
Cliff Gorman as Sonny Valerio
Isaach De Bankole as Raymond
Camille Winbush as Pearline
Tricia Vessey as Louise Vargo
Gene Ruffini as Old Consigliere
Frank Minucci as Big Angie
Richard Portnow as Handsome Frank
Frank Adonis as Valerios Bodyguard
Victor Argo as Vinny
Kenny Guay as Boy in Window
Vince Viverito as Johnny Morini
Dennis Liu as Chinese Restaurant Owner
RZA as Samurai in Camouflage
Gary Farmer as Nobody (Cayuga Native American)
Shi Yan Ming as Kung-Fu Master
The film was shot mostly in Jersey City, New Jersey, but the movie never mentions where the story is set. License plates reveal it is in "The Industrial State" and a vehicle from another state has on its license plate "The Highway State", both of which are fictional state nicknames.
Cartoons are also used as a metaphor to scene or plot dynamics. Handsome Frank watches a cartoon featuring Betty Boop corralling her pigeons moments before Ghost Dog, a fellow pigeon raiser, arrives to assassinate him. Ghost Dog is later seen handling his pigeons in the same manner as Betty. Boss Vargo watches a Felix the Cat cartoon wherein the Professor voices his frustration at capturing the elusive Felix and his magic bag, mirroring the mafias inability to find and eliminate Ghost Dog, who carries his weapons and equipment in a black briefcase. Vargo and his daughter, Louise, watch a Woody Woodpecker cartoon in the car, immediately after Ghost Dog has been distracted by a woodpecker while sniping in the woods. The cartoon features a staring contest between Woody and the Grim Reaper. Vargos daughter watches an episode of The Itchy & Scratchy Show (in which Itchy and Scratchy threaten each other with increasingly bigger guns, before blowing up the earth) before the equally violent battle which concludes the film.
Critical response to the film was largely positive. On the Rotten Tomatoes review site, the film received an 82% "Certified Fresh" rating. The critical consensus was that the movie is "An innovative blend of samurai and gangster lifestyles." The film was nominated for a few awards but did not win any of them. Among the nominations were the Grand Prix of the Belgian Syndicate of Cinema Critics, the Cesar Award for Best Foreign Film of 2000 and the Palme dOr award at the 1999 Cannes Film Festival. The film grossed a worldwide total of $9,380,473, of which $3,308,029 was in the United States.
Gary Farmer is credited as playing a character named "Nobody", the same name as his character in Jarmuschs 1995 western Dead Man. After he is confronted by some mob hitmen on his roof, Nobody repeats one of his lines from Dead Man: "stupid fucking white man!" Forest Whitakers younger brother Damon Whitaker plays the role of the young Ghost Dog in the flashback sequences.
The films score and soundtrack is the first produced by the Wu-Tang Clans RZA.
US and Japanese versions of the soundtrack album have been released, each with a different set of tracks. The Japanese release also has some songs not in the film. Songs in the film that dont appear on either soundtrack album include From Then Till Now performed by Killah Priest, Armagideon Time performed by Willi Williams, Nuba One performed by Andrew Cyrille and Jimmy Lyons and Cold Lampin With Flavor performed by Public Enemy.