Buddhism & Film: Jim Jarmusch’s “Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai” (1999) (4/4) (seen previously)
The practice of Buddhism is one of the most sacred religions in the entire world, and the thought of a Buddhist-following killing machine is not one that is met with much clarity. However, director Jim Jarmusch with his 1999 film “GHOST DOG: THE WAY OF THE SAMURAI” combined both the elements of a synchronized assassin and a devout Buddhist follower.
These elements are combined within a character referred to as “Ghost Dog” (played by Forrest Whittaker), a large, quiet African American male who follows the Hagakure: The Book of the Samurai. Ghost Dog works as a hitman under a local lowlife mobster named Louie, who assigns him to a job where he was supposed to kill a made man. Complications arise when the daughter of the Mafia boss is present at the assassination and left as a witness – because of this, Ghost Dog must single handedly take on the mobsters who he usually works for.
All throughout the film, there are breaks in the continuity of the shots for written, white-on-black textual quotes from the Hagakure: The Book of the Samurai. These quotes foreshadow all of the doings of Ghost Dog and explain the Buddhist-based mentality by which he goes about his days on Earth, especially providing an in depth explanation behind the importance of him protecting his retainer by all costs.
If Ghost Dog is not forced by following the Hagakure to protect Louie, he essentially has no reason to take on the Mafia and would be able to hide from them effectively in his rooftop pigeon coop. However, considering that he must protect his retainer by all costs and since Louie will be killed if Ghost Dog, the killer of the Mafia boss’ daughter, is not eliminated from the picture, he has no choice but to make enemies with those who once paid him to do deeds.
Jarmusch’s artsy, clearly religiously influenced film work combined with rap superstar RZA’s amazing hip-hop influenced soundtrack would seem to undoubtedly create contradiction in the flow of the film, but this is not the case. “GHOST DOG: THE WAY OF THE SAMURAI” is a culture-clashed character, a modern day African American who listens to rap music and commits violent acts while abiding by the peaceful Code of the Samurai. Jarmusch, in creating the Ghost Dog character, makes an individual who is just plain old stuck in the wrong generation.
One of The Sons of Lee Marvin, Jim Jarmusch is not a believer in any particular religion as much as he is a person who places emphasis on the need of religion in order to provide a moral crutch for people to rely on. Jarmusch’s Ghost Dog character is the epitome of someone who needs a religion to live their life because without Buddhism, he would probably be a thug roaming the streets.