18 years later, ‘Ghost Dog: Way of the Samurai’ remains a masterpiece of subject and soundtrack


“The Way of the Samurai is found in death. Meditation on inevitable death should be performed daily. Every day when one’s body and mind are at peace, one should meditate upon being ripped apart by arrows, rifles, spears, and swords. Being carried away by surging waves. Being thrown into the midst of a great fire. Being struck by lightning, being shaken to death by a great earthquake. Falling from thousand-foot cliffs, dying of disease, or committing seppuku at the death of one’s master. And every day, without fail, one should consider himself as dead. This is the substance of the Way of the Samurai.”

What better way to start off a piece about Jim Jarmusch’s 1999 crime curiosity Ghost Dog: Way of the Samurai with one of the many intertitle quotations from the Hagakure? The now-classic cult film about a hitman (Forest Whitaker) who lives according to the Bushido code and is forced to stand up for his principles against the Mafia men who employ him is nearly 20 years old now, and it’s exciting to see more people discovering this crazy-ass movie. It’s Whitaker’s best work by far (he makes a silent killer who communicates by carrier pigeon relatable!), and features some of the greatest soundtrack working of the last twenty years by the RZA, and it’s screening at the Coolidge Corner Theater this Thursday (May 25) as a part of their Cinema Jukebox series.

You don’t want to miss this.


Though, to be fair, those expecting an exploitation-flavored extravaganza should steel themselves for the quiet and meditative nature of this film. Ghost Dog, like much of Jarmusch’s oeuvre, is filled with moments of almost-surrealist beauty, such as the scene where Whitaker and Issach De Bankolé, here playing an ice cream man who speaks only French, observe a man building a boat on top of his roof and ponder how he’s going to get it down from there, each repeating the other’s thoughts, unaware that they’re saying the same things in French and in English. When De Bankolé yells down at the man to ask him how, he responds in Spanish that he can’t understand them and he has to get back to work. This is more indicative of the tone of the film than any of the action sequences, most of which are made out of homage to other films (Branded to Kill being a big influence and, of course, Jean-Pierre Melville’s Le Samourai, which the whole damn thing is made in the spirit of), and feel oddly out of place in the calm quality of the rest of the film. Don’t get us wrong, though- they’re a great deal of fun (though most definitely dated by modern action standards) and occasionally quite righteously badass.

The music, on the other hand, is what separates this from the rest of Jarmusch’s work and provides the best reason for why the Coolidge is screening this thing right before Boston Calling.

The RZA composed the score, and is briefly featured in one of the film’s most memorable bits, in which he crosses paths with Whittaker and they exchange brief words to one another. The score is just incredible, and it’s perhaps only eclipsed by the Genius’s work on the Kill Bill films in his discography, and it represents the best literalization of the Wu Tang ethos and aesthetic ever committed to film. Three quarters of the film’s narration sounds like it could have come straight off of Liquid Swords, and don’t even talk to us about Man with the Iron Fists — as much as we love that movie and that soundtrack, it doesn’t even come close to the sublime work the master does here (though we do kind of wish that fat Russell Crowe would show up in more movies). And honest to god, we bet that if the Coolidge cranks that shit like they did for Drive this past weekend, you’ll hear every single thing in perfect quality.

Seriously, Ghost Dog is a masterpiece of the merging of subject and soundtrack, and the particular blend of actor and role that’s on display here.It’s well worth your time this Thursday if you’re looking to pregame with some dope beats and awesome quirk before Boston Calling this weekend. Just don’t go into it expecting flying eyeballs, as you might be disappointed by all of the pigeons. And in addition to the movie, there’s going to be a pre-show concert put on by the Brookline Teen Center and Bizarre Records, featuring the likes of Master Faboo, PoorBoy, and Blue Cube, so you can most definitely nod ya head to some cool shit before the reels unwind.

‘GHOST DOG: WAY OF THE SAMURAI’ :: Thursday, May 25 at the Coolidge Corner Theatre, 290 Harvard St. in Brookline, MA :: 7:30 PM., all ages, $12.75 :: Coolidge event page :: Advance tickets