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Ghost Dog - Movie Review

Updated: Feb 19, 2021

Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai directed by Jim Jarmusch and starring Forest Whitaker came out in 1999. The film is about an inner city hitman who happens to live by the Code of the Samurai. Throughout the movie, Ghost Dog is found quoting the ancient book Hagakure by Yamamoto Tsunetomo. What makes the movie interesting and relevant to the meaning of life are the profound quotes throughout the film—dashed with hypnotic rhythms that fit the scenes perfectly and somehow draw you in further.

In the movie, Ghost Dog acts as a retainer for an Italian mobster who saved his life as a young teenager. For years, the two lost contact. But one day, Ghost Dog returns and promises to carry out hit jobs for the mobster. However, the catch is, they will only communicate through a carrier pigeon. From time to time, Ghost Dog also interacts with his best friend, a Haitian man who also owns an ice cream truck. The Haitian man speaks French but no English. Ghost Dog speaks English but no French. Yet, somehow both seem to be able to understand each other.

Also seen throughout the movie is the book Rashomon—which is about a murder with several different witnesses who each have alternative accounts of the event. For those interested, Rashomon has also been made into a movie.

Getting back to Ghost Dog, without divesting the plot, this review is more focused on how the movie relates to the meaning of life. Looking at this aspect of the film, three notable quotes touch on the topic.

1) It is a good viewpoint to see the world as a dream. When you have something like a nightmare, you will wake up and tell yourself that it was only a dream. It is said that the world we live in is not a bit different from this.

2) Our bodies are given life from the midst of nothingness. Existing where there is nothing is the meaning of the phrase, 'Form is emptiness.' That all things are provided for by nothingness is the meaning of the phrase, 'Emptiness is form.' One should not think that these are two separate things.

3) There is surely nothing other than the single purpose of the present moment. A man's whole life is a succession of moment after moment. If one fully understands the present moment, there will be nothing else to do, and nothing else to pursue.

The Code of the Samurai gives Ghost Dog's life purpose and meaning. Embracing the third quote, he appears to live in the present. Throughout the film, the mobsters are seen watching cartoons, which mimic their personalities, or rather are reflections of themselves. Widely aloof and not in control of their own destinies, Ghost Dog appears to be the exact opposite--fully in control of every moment, even the end.

Overall, this is a great film with a unique perspective on the big question we all ask ourselves. In addition to exploring the meaning of life, it explores the nature of death. The movie leaves one in deep reflection wanting to explore more.

Consequently, we rate the movie the following:

Overall - 8

Meaning of Life Relevance - 7

Uniqueness - 7

If you have seen the movie, please comment on this blog post and let us know your thoughts, favorite parts, and hidden meanings.

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