Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai. 1999. USA. Written and directed by Jim Jarmusch. With Forrest Whitaker, Henry Silva, Isaach De Bankolé. 35mm. 116 min.
Jim Jarmusch introduces race into the Japanese samurai film genre of chambara, with a tightly coiled Forest Whitaker playing the sort of lone swordsman made famous by Toshiro Mifune in Akira Kurosawa’s Yojimbo and Sanjuro. But the alienation Whitaker’s Ghost Dog seems to feel is equally that of Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man, an alienation imposed upon him by a society that does not even see him. When he’s not out doing the dirty work of some local Italian thugs—a rogue’s gallery of terrific character actors that includes Henry Silva, Richard Portnow, Cliff Gorman, and Victor Argo, also superbly cast by Ellen Lewis and Laura Rosenthal—he finds his kin and comfort in the company of a neighborhood girl, a Haitian ice cream vendor, and a rooftop dovecote of pigeons.