Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai

An African-American Mafia hit man who models himself after the samurai of old finds himself targeted for death by the mob. Jarmusch’s spiritual gangster film tells the story of an inner-city hit man (Whitaker) who lives on a rooftop, training himself as a samurai in the strictest sense. He communicates primarily by carrier pigeon, while remaining loyal to a gangster (Tormey) who once saved his life.
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Credits: TheMovieDb.

Film Cast:

  • Ghost Dog: Forest Whitaker
  • Louie: John Tormey
  • Sonny Valerio: Cliff Gorman
  • Ray Vargo: Henry Silva
  • Raymond: Isaach De Bankolé
  • Louise Vargo: Tricia Vessey
  • Vinny: Victor Argo
  • Old Consigliere: Gene Ruffini
  • Handsome Frank: Richard Portnow
  • Pearline: Camille Winbush
  • Chinese Restaurant Owner: Dennis Liu
  • Big Angie: Frank Minucci
  • Valerio’s Bodyguard: Frank Adonis
  • Young Ghost Dog: Damon Whitaker
  • Boy in Window: Kenny Guay
  • Johnny Morini: Vince Viverito
  • Gangsta in Red: Gano Grills
  • Gangsta in Red: Touché Cornel
  • Gangsta in Red: Jamie Hector
  • Mugger: Chuck Jeffreys
  • Kung Fu Master: Yan Ming Shi
  • Joe Rags: Joseph Rigano
  • Punk in Alley: Roberto Lopez
  • Punk in Alley: Salvatore Alagna
  • Punk in Alley: Jerry Todisco
  • Rapper in Blue: Dreddy Kruger
  • Rapper in Blue: Timbo King
  • Rapper in Blue: Clay, Da, Raider
  • Rapper in Blue: Dead and Stinking
  • Rapper in Blue: Deflon Sallahr
  • Nobody: Gary Farmer
  • Pigeonkeeper: Clebert Ford
  • Rooftop Boatbuilder: José Rabelo
  • Lefty: Jerry Sturiano
  • Tony: Tony Rigo
  • Al: Alfred Nittoli
  • Social Club Landlord: Angel Caban
  • Girl in Silver: Luz Valentin
  • Club Couple: Renee Bluestone
  • Club Couple: Jordan Peck
  • Bear Hunter: Jonathan Teague Cook
  • Bear Hunter: Tracy Howe
  • Female Sheriff: Vanessa Hollingshead
  • Blonde with Jaguar: Sharon Angela
  • Samurai in Camouflage: RZA
  • Sammy the Snake: Vinny Vella

Film Crew:

  • Director of Photography: Robby Müller
  • Editor: Jay Rabinowitz
  • Casting: Ellen Lewis
  • Writer: Jim Jarmusch
  • Sound Effects Editor: Anthony J. Ciccolini III
  • Original Music Composer: RZA
  • Casting: Laura Rosenthal
  • Production Design: Ted Berner
  • Special Effects Makeup Artist: Neal Martz
  • Costume Design: John Dunn
  • Art Direction: Mario Ventenilla
  • Producer: Richard Guay
  • Set Decoration: Ron von Blomberg
  • Script Supervisor: Chiemi Karasawa
  • Chief Lighting Technician: Christopher Porter
  • Special Effects Coordinator: Drew Jiritano
  • Production Supervisor: Victor De Jesus
  • Special Effects Makeup Artist: Todd Kleitsch
  • Property Master: Jeff Butcher
  • Sound Mixer: Drew Kunin
  • Sound Re-Recording Mixer: Dominick Tavella
  • Makeup Artist: Judy Chin
  • Gaffer: Mark Schwentner
  • Steadicam Operator: Rick Raphael
  • Grip: Josh Steinberg
  • Sound Effects Editor: Daniel Pagan
  • Electrician: Michael J. Maurer
  • Electrician: Jon Delgado
  • Still Photographer: Abbot Genser
  • Camera Loader: Scott Maguire
  • On Set Dresser: Philip Saccio Jr.
  • Camera Operator: Chaim Kantor
  • Hairstylist: Clifford Booker
  • Electrician: Francesca Cobaco
  • Key Grip: Gary Martone
  • Dolly Grip: Tally Morse
  • Dolly Grip: Rick Marroquin
  • Best Boy Electric: Ray Flynn
  • Co-Producer: Diana Schmidt
  • Assistant Property Master: Shirley Belwood
  • Cableman: Jeanne Gilliland
  • Art Department Coordinator: Nathalie Cassegrain
  • Grip: Chris Beattie
  • Boom Operator: Kevin Meehan
  • Best Boy Grip: Pedro Hernandez
  • First Assistant Camera: Katherine M. Butler
  • Production Supervisor: Lonnie Kandel
  • First Assistant Camera: Douglas C. Hart
  • First Assistant Director: Jude Gorjanc
  • Second Assistant Director: Cindy Craig
  • Second Second Assistant Director: Jessica Piscitelli
  • Second Assistant Camera: Christian Carmody
  • Grip: Sean O’Brien
  • Grip: Tim Kelly
  • Visual Effects: John Furniotis
  • Visual Effects: Don Nolan

Movie Reviews:

  • CRCulver: The eponymous protagonist of Jim Jarmusch’s 1999 film GHOST DOG is an African-American hitman (Forest Whitaker) working for an Italian mafia in New Jersey and living according to the Hagakure, Japan’s samurai code. After a hit goes wrong through no fault of the assassin’s own, his mafia liaison Louie (John Tormey) is sympathetic, but explains that his superiors now want Ghost Dog dead. The film follows Ghost Dog’s revenge and depicts a clash between two ancient tribes that both seem out of date in this modern world: Ghost Dog’s samurai code and Italian mafia ideas of loyalty.

    Jarmusch has always been open about the fact that he soaks up a huge number of inspirations from earlier films, books, and music and then lets them reflect in his own work. Any cinephile will instantly recognize Jean-Pierre Melville’s 1967 film Le Samouraï as the point of departure for GHOST DOG. In Meville’s classic, a Parisian hired assassin lives according to a strict code. But Melville didn’t really know much about Japan, and even the quotation from a samurai text at the beginning of his film was just made up by Meville himself. Jarmusch seems to have decided, “OK, I’ll show you a hired-assassin film that’s *really* rooted in the code of the Samurai”. Forest Whitaker quotes from Hagakure throughout the film, and there are also references to the work of Akira Kurosawa.

    But GHOST DOG is not a remake, and Jarmusch takes the basic premise in a very individual direction. There’s a lot of humour here, something missing from the serious Melville inspiration. In casting for the mafia dons, Jarmusch chose faces as brutal and distinctive as Dick Tracy’s rogues gallery: Henry Silva as the don, and Cliff Gorman and Gene Ruffini as his righthand men. But Jarmusch then gives them the occasional zany line that cracks that chilling façade. Isaach de Bankole plays a supporting role as a French-speaking Haitian immigrant and Ghost Dog’s best friend, a role that is pure comic relief because the man doesn’t speak English and Ghost Dog doesn’t understand French, but they always manage to understand each other.

    Until the late 1990s, Jarmusch had mainly been known as a fairly low-budget independent filmmaker writing cute little stories about personal relationships in low-key American life. Jarmusch’s America was consistently depicted as run-down neighbourhoods and overgrown vacant lots. With its generous budget, large cast and special effects, GHOST DOG marked a huge leap forward in Jarmusch’s work. Still, it maintains Jarmusch’s interest in America as a land of urban blight and seedy underbellies: most of the film takes place in an ugly New Jersey urban setting. Furthermore, instead of being glamorized, the Italian mafia is depicted as a spent force, mainly elderly men who can’t rake in the cash and influence they used to, and even forced to pay protection money to Chinese newcomers. As the film reaches its shocking ending, the glamour is drained from Ghost Dog’s warrior code, as well.

    The music for GHOST DOG was provided by RZA, at the time still best known as part of the Wu-Tang Clan. The music mainly consists of wordless beats, though, with actual rapping only at a few points. Personally, I find the use of hip-hop a weak point of the film (Jarmusch looks like an outsider looking in to this scene, unable to organically make it part of his own work), and RZA’s insistence on appearing in the film itself disrupts the rhythm of the film’s climax.

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