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Film Club: Ghost Dog (Jarmusch, 1999)

Ghost Dog
We shall kick off 2016 with a discussion of Jim Jarmusch‘s 1999 film Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai. Forest Whittaker stars as the titular American hitman who lives by the samurai code. When targeted by the mafia that he has been working for, the Ghost Dog finds himself forced to defend both his life and honour.

Ghost Dog is a part of our exploration of Rashomon and related films, which has seen us tackle The Usual Suspects, Les Girls, Hoodwinked! and Hero in the past half a year.

The core of Jarmusch’s film emphasises the subjectivity and uncertainty of perception and makes many references to Rashomon. It also shares themes with many other Kurosawa films, especially Yojimbo and Seven Samurai. The film should be widely and cheaply available for digital rental and purchase in most countries.

For those new to the film club, check out the film club page for a brief introduction and then join the discussion!


Discussion

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Magicslim

All sorts of influences brought to bear here. Jim admits to being a great magpie and as well as the obvious there is the drain pipe scene from Youth of the Beast and a very similar story structure to “Le Samurai”. For example a female witness to the hit, bird(s) in the cage or on the roof, elaborate car theft tools, the honorable death, the code (different sources), mob retribution after initiating the train of events. Strict dress could could also be added although they are dissimilar. I really enjoyed them both.

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Vili Maunula

A bit late, but I finally got around to rewatching Ghost Dog. When I grew up dreaming of becoming a film director, I wanted to be Jim Jarmusch. Not because I particularly adore his films — we have very different rhythms especially when it comes to humour — but because I see so much honesty in them, and so much observation, and so much intelligent intertextuality.

Ghost Dog is a brilliant example of this. On the surface it is quite a straightforward (if strange) little film, but like Magicslim pointed out, you only need to peek a bit beyond that surface and you start to uncover a hugely complex web of cultural references.

Rashomon is of course one of those major references. Not only is the book physically a part of the story, but the film also ingeniously bears its structure. Unlike the other films that we watched as part of our Rashomon series, Ghost Dog doesn’t simply borrow some ultimately superficial narrative aspect, but it completely immerses itself into the Rashomon paradox. There are no alternative versions (apart from I think the single flashback in the film) or repeat viewings of the same events. Instead, the various subjective interpretations of reality are presented simultaneously and in real time. Just about every character in the film appears to exist in his or her own reality and perceive the events unfolding in front of us differently. It’s really quite brilliant. And so true to life as well, if of course exaggerated.

If you haven’t yet gotten around to watching Ghost Dog, I would really encourage you to do so. From all the films that we watched during the Rashomon series, Ghost Dog is both the one closest and the one furthest away from Kurosawa’s film.

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