Thursday, June 15, 2017

Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai

Year 9, Day 166 - 6/15/17 - Movie #2,661

BEFORE: And now I've hit this nice little pocket of films about hit-men and assassinations - more death and destruction for a while, but at least with this topic it seems to serve a purpose.  Forest Whitaker carries over again from "The Crying Game".

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

AFTER: I haven't seen too many films by Jim Jarmusch, other than "Coffee and Cigarettes" and "Broken Flowers".  I think I watched "Down By Law" and "Stranger Than Paradise" back in college, but really, who didn't?  I think if you went to film school in the late 1980's, like I did, that was probably required.  I'd like to watch his film "Dead Man", with Johnny Depp, but it appeared in the cable listings a few weeks ago and then disappeared just as quickly, I think before it even aired.  Not sure what was going on there.

But I think mainly Jarmusch's films tend to come off as character studies, not intensely narrative stories, but not all oblique like David Lynch or Terry Gilliam stories, either.  I feel like I could have used more story in this one, if that makes sense, because instead it just kept telling me Ghost Dog's origin over and over, only slightly differently each time.  (I didn't realize that was a nod to "Rashomon", because I haven't watched much Japanese cinema.  I should probably put that on my eventual "to-do" list, but that list is already pretty packed.  Besides, I've avoided "Rashomon", "Ran" and "The Seven Samurai" up until now, why ruin a good thing?)

There's a fair amount of Eastern philosophy here, as Ghost Dog reads from the Hagakure, with advice for samurai warriors that covers everything from the nature of existence to recommending to warriors that they should live life as if they are already dead, which in itself seems a little contradictory.  But I guess if you consider yourself already dead, then you don't mind sacrificing yourself in battle, or for whatever cause you happen to be fighting for.  Besides, even when you decapitate a samurai, it says that they should still have enough energy left in their body to do one last thing.  Umm, yeah, OK, good luck with that.

Ghost Dog works for a man in the Mafia, someone who saved his life years ago, and has dedicated himself to serving this man as his master, much like the samurai of ancient Japan served theirs.  Over the years he has carried out a number of hits, which are "perfect" in that they can't be traced back to him, possibly because he'll only communicate with his master via carrier pigeon.  Possible NITPICK POINT: one of the Mafia guys here uses the term "passenger pigeon" instead of "carrier pigeon" or "homing pigeon", but passenger pigeons are not only extinct (as the character correctly pointed out) but were not used to send messages.  Their name was a corruption of the French word "passager", meaning "to pass by", referring to their migratory habits.  Passenger pigeons didn't carry passengers, or messages.  But carrier pigeons are European, so the correct term to use here was probably "homing pigeon".

His only other friends seem to be an ice cream vendor who only speaks French (this is something of an unnecessary complication, as it requires every bit of dialogue between them to be said twice - hey, I guess you gotta fill your movie however you can...) and a young girl who reads a lot of books.  Great, be sure to give her the book on the samurai lifestyle - I'm not sure if this was just an ill-advised reading recommendation or an attempt to set up a sequel 15 or 20 years later, when the girl grows up.

Either way, the pieces just didn't really come together for me with this one.  There's a fair amount of action, but half of that is just really old guys shooting guns, or attempting to.  And too many moody shots of Ghost Dog driving through the scummier parts of New Jersey at night, listening to rap music.

Also starring John Tormey (last seen in "Not Fade Away"), Cliff Gorman, Victor Argo (last seen in "Don't Say a Word"), Henry Silva, Richard Portnow (last seen in "Café Society"), Tricia Vessey, Frank Minucci (last seen in "Carlito's Way"), Isaach de Bankolé (last seen in "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly"), Camille Winbush (last seen in "Dangerous Minds"), Frank Adonis, Gary Farmer, Gene Ruffini, with a cameo by The RZA.

RATING: 3 out of 10 classic cartoons

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