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Ghost Dog: The Way Of The Samurai

With each successive film, director Jim Jarmusch (Stranger Than Paradise, Down By Law, Dead Man) adds another chapter to his colossal fish-out-of-water comedy, placing his camera on the crossroads where disparate cultures, philosophies, and genres collide. His latest, the accessible and sardonically funny Ghost Dog: The Way Of The Samurai, is built on the sharp juxtaposition of Eastern and Western moral codes, ancient warrior tenets and the contemporary urban landscape, and a slew of multi-ethnic misunderstandings. At its center is Forest Whitaker, a hit man who resides in a broken-down shack on a New York City rooftop and lives strictly by the samurai rules expressed in Hagakure. Though his methods are eccentric—he only communicates through a fleet of carrier pigeons and demands payment for the year on the first day of autumn—Whitaker has amassed a string of perfect contracts for his "master" (John Tormey), a thick-headed gangster who once saved his life. But their arrangement is botched when a mob kingpin's daughter (Tricia Vessey) witnesses one of Whitaker's hits, resulting in a mark being put on his own head. As a hip-hop amalgam of Toshiro Mifune in Yojimbo and Alain Delon in Le Samouraï, Whitaker embodies Jarmusch's idea of the perfect modern cult hero; shallow as it seems, his coolness is part of what makes Ghost Dog so entertaining, especially when The RZA's exhilarating score swells in the background. Jarmusch also has a lot of fun with lowbrow gangster parody—one thug has a special affinity for Flavor Flav—and a subplot involving Whitaker's "best friend," a Haitian ice-cream vendor (Isaach De Bankolé) who doesn't speak a word of English. Though Ghost Dog is lighter (and slighter) than most of the director's work, there's still something oddly mournful about how Whitaker's ethereal presence disconnects him from everyone else. As the world changes, Jarmusch's maverick ideal sadly becomes less a part of it.


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