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Artisan Home Entertainment presents
Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai (1999)

"In the words of the ancients, one should make his desicions within the space ofseven breaths. It is a matter of being determined and having the spirit to break rightthrough to the other side. When one becomes like a revengeful ghost, though hishead is cut off, he should not die. This is the substance of the Way of theSamurai."
- text from the Hagakure

Review By: Dan Lopez   
Published: September 05, 2000

Stars: Forest Whitaker
Other Stars: John Tormey, Henry Silva, Cliff Gorman, Victor Argo, Camille Winbush
Director: Jim Jarmusch

MPAA Rating: R for strong violence and language.
Run Time: 01h:46m:00s
Release Date: August 15, 2000
UPC: 012236114895
Genre: drama

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A- B+CB+ A-

DVD Review

Jim Jarmusch's latest, Ghost Dog, is an unusual mixture of many themesinto one film. This is hardly surprising, though, coming from the man who broughtus such films as Mystery Train, Stranger Than Paradise, andDead Man. Jarmusch has often had a way with taking simple ideas andturning them into something very engaging and surreal. He also manages to injecthis work with subtle beauty for the patient viewer. Definitely one of his mostunusual works yet, Ghost Dog fits well with his past resume'.

In the film, Forest Whitaker portrays Ghost Dog, a professional hit man who lives bythe code of Samurai warriors. This code is based on the Japanese text, theHagakure, which was dictated in the 1700's by an elderly Samurai namedYamamoto Tsunetomo, as a guide to living the life of a devoted warrior. Local mobboss, Ray Vargo (Henry Silva), decides to use Ghost Dog for a hit once again,except this time Ghost Dog makes an unintentional mistake. As a result, the mobdecides that they have to kill him or kill his contact, Louie (John Tormey), whodecides to help find him since his life is on the line. Ghost Dog is given advancewarning that he is in danger, and once several attempts on his life have been made,he takes matters into his own hands to pursue these mobsters to their graves.

Being a Jim Jarmusch film, Ghost Dog is anything but conventional. Whilethe plot sounds like the average idea for a Hollywood action film, the execution is fardifferent. The most noteworthy aspect is the usual dose of bizarre dialogue andconversations, most of which are very humorous. The choice of Henry Silva as themob boss couldn't have been more inspired, as his flat, deadpan delivery of some ofthe funnier lines in the movie is classic. The majority of the mobsters are played byvery familiar actors that any Martin Scorsese fan has probably seen dozens oftimes. The fact that they're all portrayed as inept and quirky adds an interesting,black comedy quality to the film. Actor Cliff Gorman also gets points for hisfabulously typical performance as a mob thug who also happens to know a lot aboutrap and hip-hop. Other typically Jarmusch-ian aspects in the script are plainlypresent and the whole thing works as a wonderfully twisted take on the "lonehitman" movie.

Despite all the good aspects, though, the film does have some disappointing flawsthat seem uncharacteristic for Jim Jarmusch's career. An obvious problem in thefilm is Jarmusch's new fascination with hip-hop music. Being a fan of the rap groupWu Tang Clan, he hired one of their members, The RZA (pronounced 'Rizza'), tocompose the background score. While RZA's score works for the most part as aninteresting compliment to the movie, the fixation on rap seems strangely out ofplace. There are moments where it almost seems that scenes were manufacturedjust so that an RZA song could be played. I found it odd that a character like GhostDog, who based his life on the Eastern philosophies of the Hagakure, wouldtake every opportunity to crank up a rap CD. Then there's the awkward, if notridiculous, cameos by RZA that add nothing to the story. It almost seemscommercial, to a certain extent, when one remembers that Neil Young scoredJarmusch's last film, Dead Man, yet did not sing or appear in the film.

All of this aside though, the core of the film is Forest Whitaker's performance asGhost Dog. There really is no other actor that could embodied this character inquite the same way. Forest is both gentle in his manner, yet ruthless when hedescends into homicidal rage. The few quiet scenes he has are inspired momentsof insight into this strange character. I once read a Roger Ebert comment onGhost Dog that basically said you have to think of Ghost Dog as insane forthe film to work. This is actually a good observation, since the assumption that Dogis somewhat crazy is the only way many of the ideas gel, or maybe we just can'tthink that a noble character like Ghost Dog could exist any other way.

Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: B+


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The 1:85:1 widescreen image on the disc seems to have a variety of visualproblems not related to the source print. For starters, there are an unusual amountof compression artifacts in many scenes, especially scenes with sky or muddycolors. This is combined with pixelization in many scenes, and nothing ever seemsfully rendered. Fabrics and skins come off as very rough without a natural clarity orsharpness you'd except from DVD. There is also a large amount of moirepatterning on things that shouldn't quite have it. The anamorphic enhancement hascaused SEVERE aliasing distortion in the 4:3 downconversion, the most I've everseen. These problems go on and off and the whole movie doesn't continuouslysuffer from them, but they pop up in various places. While color and black level arevery good, these other problems result in a very hazy visual image that, seemingly,could have been much better.

Image Transfer Grade: C


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack is mostly used for music, which makes the biggestpart of the track. There is a good deal of directionality and surround usage duringthe few action sequences, but overall this is a primarily dialogue driven film. Everything is balanced well, and nothing overpowers anything else. The LFEchannel gets a workout with the heavy bass from the soundtrack score and the rapmusic. The audio does it's job, but it certainly won't blow you out of your chair.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+


Disc Extras

Animated menu with music
Scene Access with 27 cues and remote access
Cast and Crew Biographies
Cast and Crew Filmographies
1 Original Trailer(s)
1 TV Spots/Teasers
3 Deleted Scenes
Isolated Music Score
1 Documentaries
Packaging: Alpha
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extra Extras:
  1. RZA music video, Cakes.
Extras Review: A number of interesting features pepper this disc, the biggest of which is the 22minute documentary "The Odyssey: The Journey Into The Life of a Samurai." Thesegment is a 'making-of' feature, and discusses many aspects of production. Unfortunately, a little too much emphasis is spent on the musical aspect and thefilm even goes so far as to call Ghost Dog the "feature film debut" of RZA(referencing his short cameos, I presume).
A deleted scenes reel is actually one deleted scene and 2 short outtakes. Theseare actually pretty funny scenes, especially the segment of Cliff Gorman rapping aPublic Enemy song, without the benefit of the background score. The deletedscene is simply more humor material with Henry Silva and other mobsters. Theseare must-see.
A 5.1 isolated score track is included, which will make a nice extra for those reallyinto the RZA music featured in the background. In similar territory, the discincludes an RZA music video for the song Cakes.
The package is rounded off with some good cast and crew bios as well as a fewtrailers for Ghost Dog. The menus are extremely nice, as well.

Extras Grade: A-


Final Comments

Ghost Dog is somewhat like Jarmusch's last film, Dead Man. InDead Man the central character was a reluctant killer pursued by society,whereas Ghost Dog is a very WILLING killer being pursued by enemies. Much ofthe tone from Dead Man is present, in the form of the surreal dialogue andthe extreme violence, as well as the poetic messages. I'm not saying GhostDog is unoriginal, but it certainly bears a close relationship to DeadMan. Those who appreciate movies with a very strange tone will certainly lovethis one. Highly recommended.


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