Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai
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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, and was nominated for both an Independent Spirit Award for Best Feature and a César Award for Best Foreign Film.


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.


  • Forest Whitaker as Ghost Dog
  • John Tormey as Louie
  • Henry Silva as Ray Vargo
  • Cliff Gorman as Sonny Valerio
  • Isaach de Bankolé as Raymond
  • Camille Winbush as Pearline
  • Tricia Vessey as Louise Vargo
  • Richard Portnow as Frank Handsome Frank
  • Frank Adonis as Valerio s Bodyguard
  • Victor Argo as Vinny
  • RZA as Samurai In Camouflage
  • Gary Farmer as Nobody
  • Shi Yan Ming as Kung-Fu Master


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 and a vehicle from another state has on its license plate The Highway State , both of which are fictional state nicknames.


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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.

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. 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).

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 and the Palme d Or award at the 1999 Cannes Film Festival.

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


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. 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.

Track listing

No. Title Length
1. Ice-Cream  
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

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. 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. Ghost Dog shooting Sonny Valerio up the drain pipe is taken from Branded to Kill.

Year 1999
ReleaseDate 2000-03-24
RuntimeMins 116
RuntimeStr 1h 56min
Plot An African-American Mafia hit man who models himself after the samurai of old finds himself targeted for death by the mob.
Awards Awards, 1 win & 8 nominations
Directors Jim Jarmusch
Writers Jim Jarmusch
Stars Forest Whitaker, Henry Silva, John Tormey
Produced by Richard Guay,Jim Jarmusch,Diana Schmidt
Music by RZA
Cinematography by Robby Müller
Film Editing by Jay Rabinowitz
Casting By Ellen Lewis,Laura Rosenthal,Jeanne McCarthy
Production Design by Ted Berner
Art Direction by Mario Ventenilla
Set Decoration by Ron von Blomberg
Costume Design by John Dunn
Makeup Department Clifford Booker,Judy Chin,Todd Kleitsch,Neal Martz,Adenike Wright
Production Management Victor De Jesus,Lonnie Kandel,Gabrielle Mahon,Diana Schmidt,Stacey Smith,Karen L. Thorson
Second Unit Director or Assistant Director Cindy Craig,Jude Gorjanc,Jessica Piscitelli
Art Department Shirley Belwood,Jeff Butcher,Nathalie Cassegrain,Bill Cassidy,Peter DeCurtis,Susan Glod,Mario Herrera,Richard S. Kamin,Louis Mucci,Joseph Proscia,Danny Rovira,Philip Saccio Jr.,Philip Saccio,Jennifer Snoeyink,Ken Sperling,Steve Swanson,Clayton Thomas,Roman Turovsky,Thomas Hocking
Sound Department David Boulton,Jason Canovas,John Chamberlain,Eric A. Christoffersen,Anthony J. Ciccolini III,Ryan Collison,Keith Culbertson,Joe Dohner,Jeanne Gilliland,Thomas A. Gulino,Ann Hadsell,Drew Kunin,Kevin Meehan,Yvette Nabel,Daniel Pagan,Alex Raspa,Lynn Sable,Dominick Tavella,Brian Vancho,John Werner,Karl Wasserman
Special Effects by Drew Jiritano,John Stifanich,Andrew Mortelliti
Visual Effects by John Furniotis,Don Nolan,Trevor Bajus,Molle DeBartolo,Gray Miller,Dave Salter,Mark Tureski
Stunts Norman Douglass,Manny Siverio,Jeff Ward
Camera and Electrical Department Chris Beattie,Katherine M. Butler,Christian Carmody,Francesca Cobaco,Jon Delgado,Ray Flynn,Abbot Genser,Douglas C. Hart,Pedro Hernández,Chaim Kantor,Tim Kelly,Gary Lamantia,Scott Maguire,Rick Marroquin,Gary Martone,Michael J. Maurer,Tally Morse,David Norris,Sean O’Brien,Christopher Porter,Rick Raphael,Mark Schwentner,Josh Steinberg,Nicolas L. Charuet,Chaim Kantor
Casting Department Anthony Ortiz,Jessy Terrero,Ulysses Terrero,Blythe Cappello,Gayle Keller,Jeanne McCarthy
Costume and Wardrobe Department Kevin Brainerd,David Davenport,Amy Habacker
Editorial Department Jennifer Apel,Héctor Cordero,Tony Grocki,Ricardo Olivero,Catherine Rankin,John Dowdell,Peter Phillips
Location Management Carl Archibald,Ged Dickersin,Tom Jarmusch,Suk Yi Mar,Kevon Murphy,Kate Schultz,Demond Stafford,Mimi Turner
Music Department Jay Rabinowitz,Sunz of Man,Tekitha
Script and Continuity Department Chiemi Karasawa
Transportation Department John Arena Jr.,Ralph Astarita,Tom Buckman Jr.,Bill Buckman,Christopher Cilento,Danny Houghton,Joe Irwin,Bob Lansing,Leonard Luizzi,John Lynch Jr.,Joe Mallon,George Moran,John Raffone,Ed Stewart,Francis Volpe,Louis Volpe,Ralph Volpe
Additional Crew Cynthia Bauer,Jesse Bodine,Brian Cantaldi,Jen Cox,Aaron Douglas,Sara Driver,Jennifer Ehman,Joe Facey,Orlando Ferreyra III,Kathleen Gallagher,Mara Galus,Jeff Seymann Gilbert,Jill Goldstein,Ariel Greene,Joe Guest,Tucker Hartsorne,Richard Heller,Vanessa Jacobs,Paul Johnson,Damon Keller,Stefanie Koseff,Brian Lampf,Susan Lawlor,Nemo Librizzi,Gabrielle Mahon,Alfredo Martinez,Steve McAuliff,Tony McKray,Kelly Mearkle,Macho Mendez,Chris O’Brien,David Phillips,Jennifer Pietzryh,Reid Rosefelt,Christa Saredi,Harris Smith,Stacey Smith,Michele Soddano,Jim Sotet,Thea St. Omer,Eliza Thomas,Daira Torres,Alfonso Trinidad,Dana Wisher,Heathar Wynne,Randall Balsmeyer,Al Cerullo,Lee Holifield,Michael K. Reynolds
Thanks Akira Kurosawa,Jean-Pierre Melville,Mary Shelley,Bart Walker
Genres Crime, Drama
Companies Pandora Filmproduktion, ARD (Arbeitsgemeinschaft der öffentlich-rechtlichen Rundfunkanstalten der Bundesrepublik Deutschland), ARD Degeto Film
Countries France, Germany, USA, Japan
Languages English, French
ContentRating R
ImDbRating 7.5
ImDbRatingVotes 91301
MetacriticRating 67
Keywords crime boss,samurai,african american,hitman,honor