Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai

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Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai
Ghost Dog film poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byJim Jarmusch
Written byJim Jarmusch
Produced byRichard Guay
Jim Jarmusch
CinematographyRobby Müller
Edited byJay Rabinowitz
Music byRZA
Distributed byArtisan Entertainment
Release date
  • May 18, 1999 (1999-05-18)
Running time
116 minutes
  • United States
  • France
  • Germany
  • Japan
Budget$2 million
Box office$9,380,473

Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai is a 1999 crime film written and directed by Jim Jarmusch. Forest Whitaker stars as the title character, the mysterious "Ghost Dog", a hitman in the employ of the Mafia, who follows the ancient code of the samurai as outlined in the book of Yamamoto Tsunetomo's recorded sayings, Hagakure. Critics have noted similarities between the movie and Jean-Pierre Melville's 1967 film Le Samouraï.

The film opened to largely positive critical reception,[1] and was nominated for both an Independent Spirit Award for Best Feature and a César Award for Best Foreign Film.[2]


Ghost Dog sees himself as a retainer of Louie, a local mobster, who saved Ghost Dog's life years earlier. While living as a hitman for the American Mafia, he adheres to the code of the samurai, and interprets and applies the wisdom of the Hagakure.

Louie tells Ghost Dog to kill a gangster, Handsome Frank, who is sleeping with the daughter of local mafia boss Vargo. Ghost Dog arrives and kills the gangster, before seeing that the girl is also in the room; he leaves her alive. To avoid being implicated in the murder of a made man, Vargo and his associate Sonny Valerio decide to get rid of Ghost Dog. Louie knows practically nothing about Ghost Dog, as the hitman communicates only by homing pigeon. The mobsters start by tracing all the pigeon coops in town. They find Ghost Dog's cabin atop a building and kill his pigeons. Ghost Dog realizes he must kill Vargo and his men or they will kill him and his master.

During the day, Ghost Dog frequently visits the park to see his best friend, a French-speaking ice cream man named Raymond. Ghost Dog does not understand French and Raymond does not understand English but the two nonetheless seem to connect with each other. Ghost Dog also befriends a little girl named Pearline, to whom he lends the book Rashōmon.

Eventually, Ghost Dog invades Vargo's mansion and kills almost everyone single-handedly, sparing only Louie and Vargo's daughter. That night, Ghost Dog kills Sonny Valerio at his home by shooting him through a pipe. Ghost Dog expects that Louie will attack him (as he feels that Louie is obliged to avenge the murder of his boss, Vargo). He goes to the park and gives Raymond all his money, helping him to stay in the country. Pearline appears and gives back Rashōmon to Ghost Dog, saying that she liked it. Ghost Dog gives Pearline his copy of Hagakure and encourages her to read it.

Though Louie feels some loyalty to Ghost Dog, he finally confronts him at Raymond's ice cream stand with Raymond and Pearline watching. Ghost Dog is unwilling to attack his master and allows Louie to kill him. His last act is to give Louie the copy of Rashōmon and encourage him to read it. Pearline takes Ghost Dog's gun and tries to shoot at Louie as he flees but the gun is empty. Ghost Dog dies peacefully with Raymond and Pearline at his side; Louie gets into a car with Vargo's daughter (who now has replaced her father as his boss). Later, Pearline reads the Hagakure.



The film was shot mostly in Jersey City, New Jersey, but the movie never mentions where the story is set. License plates reveal it is in "The Industrial State"[3] and a vehicle from another state has on its license plate "The Highway State", both of which are fictional state nicknames.


Critical response to the film was largely positive. On the Rotten Tomatoes review site, the film has an 82% "Certified Fresh" rating, based on reviews from 95 critics. The website's critical consensus was that the movie is "An innovative blend of samurai and gangster lifestyles."[4]

Roger Ebert of The Chicago Sun-Times gave the film 3 out of 4 stars, describing it as "truly, profoundly weird." Ebert's review proposed Ghost Dog made the most sense if Whitaker's character were insane: "In a quiet, sweet way, he is totally unhinged and has lost all touch with reality. His profound sadness, which permeates the touching Whitaker performance, comes from his alienation from human society, his loneliness, his attempt to justify inhuman behavior (murder) with a belief system (the samurai code) that has no connection with his life or his world."[5] J. Hoberman of The Village Voice described it as "an impeccably shot and sensationally scored deadpan parody of two current popular modes" (hitman films and mafia films).[6]

The film was nominated for a few awards but did not win any of them. Among the nominations were the Grand Prix of the Belgian Syndicate of Cinema Critics, the César Award for Best Foreign Film of 2000[7] and the Palme d'Or award at the 1999 Cannes Film Festival.[8]

The film grossed a worldwide total of $9,380,473, of which $3,308,029 was in the United States.[9]


The film's score and soundtrack is the first produced by the Wu-Tang Clan's RZA.

US and Japanese versions of the soundtrack album have been released, each with a different set of tracks. The Japanese release also has some songs not in the film.[10] Songs in the film that don't appear on either soundtrack album include From Then Till Now performed by Killah Priest, Armagideon Time performed by Willi Williams, Nuba One performed by Andrew Cyrille and Jimmy Lyons and Cold Lampin With Flavor performed by Public Enemy.[11]

Track listing[edit]

2."Fast Shadow" 
3."Raise Your Sword" 
4."From Then Till Now" 
5."Armagideon Time" 
6."Nuba One" 
7."Cold Lampin With Flavor" 
8."Dangerous Fun" 

Cultural references[edit]

The film has been interpreted by critics as an homage to Le Samouraï, a 1967 crime-drama by Jean-Pierre Melville starring Alain Delon. That movie opens with a quote from an invented Book of Bushido and features a meditative, loner hero, Jef Costello. In the same manner that Ghost Dog has an electronic "key" to break into luxury cars, Costello has a huge ring of keys that enable him to steal any Citroën DS.[12][13] The endings share a key similarity. The peculiar relationship between the protagonists of both movies and birds, as companions and danger advisers, is another common theme. The film contains a number of references to Seijun Suzuki's Branded to Kill, such as when a bird lands in front of Ghost Dog's rifle scope, referencing the incident with a butterfly in Suzuki's film.[14] Ghost Dog shooting Sonny Valerio up the drain pipe is taken from Branded to Kill.


  1. ^ "Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai". Retrieved 29 April 2019 – via
  2. ^ "Forest Whitaker". Retrieved 29 April 2019.
  3. ^ "Cold Warrior Jeannette Catsoulis on Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai". reverse shot. 2005. Retrieved 2006-10-13.
  4. ^ "Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango Media. 1999. Retrieved 2018-10-03.
  5. ^ Ebert, Roger. "Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai Movie Review (2000) - Roger Ebert". Retrieved 29 April 2019.
  6. ^ "Into the Void". The Village Voice. February 29, 2000.
  7. ^ "Awards for Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai". Internet Movie Database. 2001. Retrieved 2006-08-30.
  8. ^ "Festival de Cannes: Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai". Archived from the original on 2011-07-10. Retrieved 2009-10-06.
  9. ^ "Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai". Box Office Mojo. 2006. Retrieved 2006-08-30.
  10. ^ "Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai". Soundtrack Collector. 1999. Retrieved 2006-10-12.
  11. ^ "Soundtracks for Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai". Internet Movie Database. 1999. Retrieved 2006-09-06.
  12. ^ "Into the Void". Village Voice. March 2000. Archived from the original on 2007-10-17. Retrieved 2007-12-06.
  13. ^ "Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai (2000) Reel Review". Archived from the original on 2007-10-17. Retrieved 2007-12-06.
  14. ^ Wilonsky, Robert (March 23, 2000). "The Way of Jim Jarmusch". Miami New Times. Retrieved May 7, 2009.

External links[edit]