You will need to have gained some semblance of my thematic response to the Jarmusch films I watched in succession last year, for this post to make the most sense.
I recently watched Jarmusch’s 1999 film, Ghost Dog : The Way of the Samurai and was intrigued at how it fitted into the Jarmusch canon … and how it differed.
Only with the benefit of some hindsight do I wonder if most (or all) of Jarmusch’s films are meditations on death, or life. Certainly Ghost Dog, and its predecessor, Dead Man, most obviously are.
Ghost Dog is Forest Whitaker as a hit man who follows the code of the samurai, that is, one who meditates on death, daily, amongst a great many other things we learn from extracts of his book, Hagakure : The Way of the Samurai. He is at heart a peaceful and thoughtful soul whose code of behaviour is one of respect toward his master and humility toward others.
Certainly the film fits Jarmusch’s broad pattern of a man on a journey, in this case, dispensing death with an array of high tech gadgets and pistols, as he steps inevitably toward his own death.
His French speaking, ice-cream selling Haitian friend, Raymond (Isaac De Bankole), is the “comic relief” that is very reminiscent of Roberto Benigni’s Italian babbling taxi driver in Night On Earth. It is Jarmusch’s own preference (and sense of humour?) to use the same actors and music in many of his films creating a sometimes surreal overlap that makes you wonder if he doesn’t see all his films as just one big one. De Bankole was the Parisian taxi driver in Night on Earth.
RZA (in Coffee & Cigarettes) supplies the music in Ghost Dog; Gary Farmer has a walk-on, walk-off role in Ghost Dog which reprises his character, Indian guide Nobody, from Dead Man (never mind the different city, different era … that’s just detail) in which he utters his famous line, “Stupid white man;” along with the stylistic closing and opening of chapters via a black out, in this case with the next extract from Hagakure as an interlude.
Ghost Dog is by far the most “mainstream” of Jarmusch’s films. It is almost a revenge/action type film and the meditative silences are not as long (and drawn out) as some of his other films. Personally, I still rate Dead Man as my favourite of his however this would easily come in second.