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It’s said that the “spirit of time” is a thing to which you can’t return. This spirit dissolves more with the approach of the doomsday. So if somebody tries to bring this world to a spirit of time of a hundred or more year remoteness, he won’t be able to do it. That’s why you have to take the best from every generation.
This quote takes us to times long gone, to the Edo period of Japanese history, when the Land of the Rising Sun after the bloody civil war between the samurai houses was finally united by the power of Tokugawa warlords. The country came to peace, the peasants returned to their lands, but Japanese warriors who were now unable to use their skills in a proper way and to be warriors indeed started to think about the role of a samurai in the society, looking back to the actions of their glorious ancestors. No wonder that in this situation the regular warrior had a feeling of a permanent degradation of his own estate, the life of which more and more looked like a clerk’s life. We can also see a certain Japanese Buddhism feature here: everything in the world is moving from the best to the worst, from perfection to decadence.
This is the legacy of Japanese past times, to which the main hero (Forest Whitaker) looks back during the whole movie comparing his actions to the injunctions of Yamamoto Tsunetomo, the author of an old tract “Hagakure” (“In the Shade of the Leaves”). Ghost Dog is a mercenary who follows Bushido (“The Military Scholar Road”). In the youth he got into big trouble, but a member of Italian Mafia Louie (John Tormey) saved his life, whereas young gangster sweared to be loyal to him and since then was fulfilling the Mafiosi’s orders without a sound.
The race of the main hero together with the soundtrack of RZA and Wu-Tang Clan makes Jim Jarmusch’s movie close to the “black comedies”: in the movie Ghost Dog encounters the representatives of rival black bands Bloods and Creeps from time to time, while his friends are a n African American ice-cream vendor and a dark-skinned girl who reads clever books – they are perhaps the only pure characters in the film.
The plot that develops smoothly lets us pay attention to the details which help the director develop the movie’s ideas and gradually lead the inner discourse to a logical conclusion. Those are the phrases that Ghost Dog exchanges with the gang members, talks and chess plays with a friend, the quotes from old Japanese texts.
The contrast and the unity of hip-hop and quotes from samurai tracts that are placed stylishly placed by Jarmusch where it's needed create a distinctive aesthetical experience that along with the elements of a criminal drama similar to “Goodfellas” or “The Sopranos” makes viewer admire the director’s work.
In the end the main moral dilemma of Ghost Dog is similar to the one that usually appears in Japanese pieces of art, let it be traditional epos or Takeshi Kitano’s films: main hero undeviatingly follows his principles and despite the overbalance towards the opponent and the decided finale tries to finish his business, dictated by the duty and the warrior’s honor.
— You know, Louie, this Ghost Dog has one good feature.
— What’s that, Vin?
— He kills us the old way, like some cool gangsters.