Mindless Action Mondays: Ghost Dog

MindlessActionMondaysBy Drew Parton

pposterThis week, I didn’t get around to seeing Getaway, instead I checked out the 1999 Samurai/Crime film Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai.

Ghost Dog stars Forrest Whittaker as a modern-day samurai who works as a hitman for the mob. He’s mysterious, dark, weird, yet cultured and humble. He believes only in steadfast and unwavering obedience to his master.

The movie is a slower action film that is really more meditative. Ghost Dog reads frequently from an old Feudal Samurai text I’ve quoted before, The Hagakure. Text from the book also breaks up the plot a few times. This was a bit of a sleeper cult hit for Forest Whitaker and like his other films, Forest is superb in this movie. Actually, the whole film is incredibly good. It reminded me a lot of Drive at times.

GrabberRaster 0012This film has a lot of parallels to last weeks Assassin film, Leon: The Professional. Like Leon, Ghost Dog (that’s all he’s ever called) is quiet, humble, deadly, and eccentric- he models himself after a Samurai and trains pigeons in his spare time. Also like Leon, the protagonist meets a little girl.

Forest Whitaker Eye

I’m not going to lie, there’s no reason for me to put this here. I just want to.

The little girl befriends Ghost Dog but is really secondary to the conflict: when Ghost Dog leaves a witness at an assassination of a mob sub-boss, his employers realize they must hunt him down. Here’s the kicker, though, our boy GD still is undying loyal to his Master, a minor crime boss named Louie, even while Louie’s bosses viciously hunt Ghost Dog.

Ghost Dog meets a little girl named Pearline and befriends her, giving her the book Rashomon and Other Stories. A story set in feudal japan that was made into Akira Kurosawa’s first major hit. It’s a series of four tales about the slaying of a samurai told from four various viewpoints (the bandit who fought the samurai, the dead samurai, the samurai’s wife, and a woodcutter who saw the whole thing)- all of which conflict each other, and in the end no one knows the truth. This nicely parallels how Louie and Ghost Dog have widely different takes on how they met.

ghost-dog-swordIn fact, there are a lot of parallels- especially between the text snippets from The Hagakure and the mob we see throughout the film. And in fact, both kind of throw back to how outdated and romanticized the two are. As I said in my 13 Assassins review, feudal Japan and the Samurai caste were nothing like most people thought. Movies and media have shrouded the time in myth and legend. Same thing about the mob; even in the film, the mobsters always talk about how they wish they were around for “The good old days” of the mob in the 1930’s (and how Ghost Dog probably wishes he was born in the “the good old days” of the 1600’s). And how neither of those were like how we think (or wish).

But seriously, insults are to Full Metal Jacket as parallels are to Ghost Dog, there are just so goddamn many of them. It’s one of the few criticisms I have for the movie. They just kind of overwhelm you at every turn.

imagesAnother odd thing is the sole comic relief character in the film, a Haitian ice cream vendor who’s Ghost Dog’s friend. Ghost Dog doesn’t speak French and the vendor doesn’t speak English, but they still converse (it’s a Han-Chewie kind of thing, I suppose).

It’s a slow-paced, intense action film along the lines of Drive. And like Drive, it is a very excellent-yet understated- film. I would heavily recommend it. I’m actually really glad that I watched this movie this week because Getaway is sure to be bad. But check back next Monday for my review of that!

Meanwhile, be sure to check out my science column: Trope-ic Thunder

Recommend movies or ask questions:

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