Oct 14, 2013

Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai




Next to European arthouse directors from the 1960s-1980s, especially the pretentious French sort he rips off of, Jim Jarmusch (Stranger Than Paradise, Night on Earth) seems like a pedantic dilettante who make counterfeit post-counter-culture celluloid crap of the obscenely banal ‘offbeat’ sort, yet he has made a film or two that is worth seeing, if not for totally novel reasons, with Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai being one of those films, even if I found myself cringing at the film’s compulsive and conspicuous culture cringing. The story of an overweight negro samurai named ‘Ghost Dog’ played by Forest Whitaker (in a role specially tailored for him by Jarmusch) who finds himself to be a marked man after committing a hit for the Italian mafia which the Mafioso boss’ daughter witnesses, Ghost Dog is a kooky postmodern crime flick and celluloid cultural mongrel that is steeped in would-be-quirky negrophilia and superifical Far-Eastern warrior philosophy that pays blatant, if not somewhat blasphemous, homage to Jean-Pierre Melville’s Le Samouraï (1967) starring proud French nationalist Alain Delon. A film depicting two dying warrior codes—that of the samurai and the mafia—Ghost Dog presents a changing 'multicultural' world where old school masculinity has become outmoded and where an uncommonly stoic negro anti-hero has adopted an alien creed which he utilizes for his own paradoxically Afroncentric means to kill elderly and discernibly degenerated members of the American Cosa Nostra. A typical Jarmusch work where the exotic ‘other’ is ritualistically fetishized and the white man, even swarthy ones from the Mediterranean, is depicted with the utmost malice, which reaches its zenith in a scene where an American Indian calls a stereotypically hotheaded wop a “stupid fucking white man” for shooting a pigeon, Ghost Dog is excessive ethno-masochism and xenophilia in its most pseudo-esoteric form directed by a man who never got over the fact that his hair turned completely white when he was a mere teenager. With various shamelessly contrived fanboy references to Jap literary classics like Rashōmon (1915) and Hagakure: The Way of the Samurai, as well as films ranging from Le Samouraï to Seijun Suzuki's Branded to Kill (1967) to Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope (1977), Ghost Dog is a sort of pseudo-daring dilettante deconstruction of ancient traditions/folklore and film genre conventions that, like any serious work of pomo puffery, takes great pride in its cultural references, yet does not have much of a soul, despite featuring a samurai soul brother as the lead character. Featuring a musical score and cameo role by rapper RZA—the de facto leader of the orientalist hip hop outfit, the Wu-Tang Clan—Ghost Dog is a superficially strange film where black turns yellow and takes out white, thereupon making a virtual celluloid wet dream for cultivated wiggers and negro nerds. 



 A strict follower of the samurai code who lives in a mostly black ghetto, Ghost Dog (Forest Whitaker) is in a peculiar position as the voluntary ‘retainer’ of a local mafia boss named Louie (John Tormey), who saved the black samurai from a very potential death while just a young black buck. Now a phantom-like hitman who carries out contract killings for the mafia via Louie, Ghost Dog finds himself in serious trouble when he kills a gangster named Handsome Frank who has been sleeping with the daughter of a mafia boss named Vargo (Henry Silva), not realizing that said daughter of the mafia boss, Louise Vargo (Tricia Vessey), is in the room when he commits the crime. After Ghost Dog kills less than Handsome Frank, Louise shows no concern for the death of her beloved, but instead lends the jigaboo samurai a copy of Rashōmon that she had just finished reading, stating with a most flat affect, “It’s a great book…Ancient Japan was a strange place.” Ghost Dog makes the mistake of letting Louise live and he is rewarded by Vargo and his associate Sonny Valerio, who decide to get rid of the spade samurai as he can implicate them for committing the mob sin of not only killing a 'made man,' but using a black brotha' to do it. Unfortunately for them, Ghost Dog is not an easy fellow to find as he lives like a hermit in a shack on the roof of a pet shop and only communicates with Frank, who is ordered by Vargo to find the samurai, by way of small paper messages sent via pigeons. Ghost Dog’s only friend is a flamboyant Haitian ice cream man named Raymond (Isaach De Bankolé) who can only speak French, yet the two idiosyncratic negroes seem to understand each other perfectly as demonstrated by the fact that they both always say the same thing. Luckily, Ghost Dog makes a new friend in the form of a feisty little black girl that looks like Whoopi Goldberg named Pearline (Camille Winbush), who the samurai gives Louise Vargo’s copy of Rashōmon to read. Meanwhile, Vargo’s elderly mob underlings go around looking for Ghost Dog, killing an innocent pigeon and old black man in the process, which rather irks the sensitive samurai, who is respected by both members of the 'Crips' and 'Bloods.' Of course, Ghost Dog retaliates by killing the mafia men one-by-one, which becomes rather bizarre due to the fact that his master Louie is on their side. After invading Vargo’s mansion and singlehandedly killing everyone except for Louise Vargo and Louie, Ghost Dog demonstrates his peculiar sense of ‘black power’ by senselessly killing two white hunters who have just killed a bear, which is the samurai’s spiritual animal. In the end, Ghost Dog and Louie have a final showdown, where the pseudo-Japanese black warrior allows his mafia master to kill him, thus allowing both men to follow through with their archaic codes in a world that no longer recognizes either. Before he dies, Ghost Dog gives his copy of Rashōmon, which was just given back to him by Pearline, to Louie. 



 A sort of bastard celluloid love child that was clearly created by a person that, not unlike alpha-fanboy Quentin Tarantino, was directed by a mixed-up man with a bad case of xenophilia and piss poor taste in cinema, Ghost Dog is a film that proves that deconstructing film genre conventions and mixing cultural ingredients almost always makes for sapless celluloid that begs for importance and notoriety, but ultimately offers nothing new in the way of cinematic art. Indeed, while I would be lying if I did not admit that Ghost Dog kept me vaguely entertained through with its overly contrived quirkiness, and I can respect director Jarmusch for flipping through Hagakure, I certainly cannot respect the putrid pomo idea of overweight American negroes pretending to follow in the tradition of ancient Japanese samurais, as if samurai code is interchangeable between races and that any race of people can aptly adopt such unique culture ingredients, hence why the film seems like one big joke at the expense of not only the Japanese, but American wops as well. Personally, if I was Japanese, I would rather see the code of the samurai die out totally before seeing a little black girl adopt it as hinted at the end of Ghost Dog. Ultimately, an intertextual celluloid turd that, rather absurdly, is seemingly meant to stroke the egos of film school fanboys and culturally confused negroes who are down with the old school “Land of the Rising Sun,” Ghost Dog is celluloid cultural mongrelization at its most stylistically superficial and soulless, as if a diehard atheist ‘true believer’ attempted to make a metaphysical martial arts film. Featuring old wop gangsters practicing their own brand of feminism by shooting female cops (“they want to be equal…I made her equal”) and respecting black men for killing them (“there’s one good thing about this Ghost Dog guy…He’s sending us out the old way…Like real fucking gangsters”), Ghost Dog manages to compile everything that is culturally and spiritually retarded about America and disseminate it through a bastardized and negrofied pseudo-Far-East package of pomo hip-hop puffery that reminds one why America is devolving into a third world sewer of racial and cultural chaos.  Call me nostalgic, but I prefer the Sicilian mafia to the Bloods and the Crips any day because at least they knew how to dress and keep their pants around their waist.



-Ty E