Ghost Dog “It is bad when one thing becomes two. One should not look for anything else in the Way of the Samurai. It is the same for anything that is called a Way. If one understands things in this manner, he should be able to hear about all ways and be more and more in accord with his own. ” Thus is the struggle of Ghost Dog, an African American trying to live by the Bushido code of the Samurai, as dictacted by the book the Hagakure: Way of the Samurai, while living in a world dominated by the declining respectability of the Italian-American Mafia, the Cosa Nostra.
Throughout this film, certain themes including foreshadowing, death, loyalty, and knowledge are maintained and shown in various ways and through various elements, such as cartoons, music, books and animal symbology. Foreshadowing in this movie is in abundance. Much of the plot is developed, not through dialogue between characters, but in things outside the characters, such as the Hagakure and the cartoons that the characters are watching throughout the film. Scenes from the Hagakure both foreshadow events, and make more prominent the things that go against it.
For example, there is a quote form the Hagakure “According to what one of the elders said, taking an enemy on the battlefield is like a hawk taking a bird. Even though it enters into the midst of a thousand of them, it gives no attention to any bird other than the one that it has first marked. ” So you expect, when the gangsters find themselves on the roof with the older black man, that they would cut him slack, like they did with the Indian guy. So it comes as a surprise when they shoot him, and it also brings the audience’s attention back.
In other cases, the Hagakure is used to show what is being done. “In the words of the ancients, one should make his decisions in the space of seven breaths. It is a matter of being determined and having the spirit to break right through to the other side. ” This is being read as Ghost Dog makes the decision to go after the Mafia. The cartoons used in this movie are extensive, and all of them are foreshadowing or paralleling the plot. Handsome Frank is watching Betty Boop play with pigeons, and Ghost Dog is seen later in the film playing with the pigeons in a similar manner.
The Mob Boss, Vargo, is seen watching a Felix the Cat cartoon, which eerily echoes the mafia’s chase of Ghost Dog. They also, were watching the cartoon of Woody and the Grim Reaper, which not only is the foreshadowing of Ghost Dog’s death, but also one of the many portents of death in this film. The use of cartoons are a smart Death plays a significant role in this film. Ghost Dog is a button-man, or assassin, for the Mafia. His death is planned when an assassination goes slightly wrong. We are focused on death from the beginning of the entire movie by a quote from the Hagakure. The Way of the Samurai is found in death. Meditation on inevitable death should be performed daily. Everyday, when one’s body and mind are at peace, one should meditate on being ripped apart by arrows, rifles, spears, and swords. Being carried away by surging waves, being thrown into the midst of a great fire, being struck by lightning. Being shaken to death by a great earthquake, falling from thousand foot cliffs, dying of disease, or committing seppuku at the death of one’s master. And everyday without fail, one should consider himself as dead. This is the substance of The Way of the Samurai. The last line of this passage tells you exactly what this movie is to be about. We are shown many instances of death and we are also shown more foreshadowing of Ghost Dog’s death. One such instance is where Raymond describes Ghost Dog as a bear. “The bear is a solitary animal, adaptable to all sorts of climates, environments and food… the bear is a formidable adversary with no predatory instincts at all. But when surprised or wounded, a bear may attack and becomes very dangerous. ” In a later scene, Ghost Dog comes across the hunters who have killed the bear.
Ghost Dog says that in ancient times, bears were considered equal to men. Then the hunter says that this isn’t ancient times. A quote from the Hagakure says “It is said that what is called the ‘spirit of an age’ is something to which no one can return. That this spirit gradually dissipates is due to the world’s coming to an end… ” Another type of death, not necessarily physical, is the death of the Mafia’s respect in and around the town. Seen in the very beginning with the soldier’s disrespect of the Boss by sleeping with the boss’s daughter, and throughout the movie with scenes such as the child throwing toys at the
Mafia men and with Nobody, the Indian on the rooftop with pigeons, calling them “Stupid Fucking White Man. ”, this kind of death led to more actual death in the Mafia’s struggle to retain their power and respect among the people. Another symbol foretelling death is the dog that keeps showing up and staring down Ghost Dog. Dogs are symbolic protectors and liasons between our world and the other world according to many cultures mythology, but dogs are most prized and recognized for their loyalty. Loyalty is another prominent theme in Ghost Dog, both in its true form and in the mutated obscure form shown by the mafia.
Ghost Dog shows loyalty to his “master” by carrying out jobs for him and, in the end, giving his life for his master while not blaming Louie for having to kill him. “Loyalty” is shown when Vargo orders the hit on Ghost Dog for the death of Handsome Frank, even if it is in a twisted sense, since Vargo ordered the hit of Handsome Frank in the first place. The mafia has a code of loyalty, family before all, and those who betray that loyalty are “whacked”. Their loyalty is so important, men who hope to be “made” have to take a sacred oath, the omerta.
This loyalty of family is shown when Louie is upset with Ghost Dog for stopping Louie’s assassination, even though Louie didn’t want to really die, honor dictated that the orders of the Boss be carried through. There is also the loyalty of the pigeons to Ghost Dog himself, and his loyalty to them when he decides to kill those involved in their death. Another recurring element in the film Ghost Dog is the selecting and use of musical accompaniment within the scenes. We see the use the rap and hip hop culture in many situations throughout the film, plus the addition of traditional eastern influences.
We can infer Ghost Dog’s cultural backgrounds, both biological and chosen, by the unique mix of music used as his theme, which incorporated both sounds of the East and West. Ghost Dog carries around a CD with a select number of songs on it so when he goes on jobs for the mafia that involve stealing cars for them and drives them around town to the location for the mafia to pick up. He plays these songs in the car while driving around town and the use of camera angles ties the impact of the scene for the viewer.
Since sound has been incorporated into movies it has changed the way one views the cinematic experiences all together. The continuation of knowledge is a big part of this film. From Ghost Dog continuing the Way of the Samurai, to passing the book along to Pearline. From the passing along of the Mafia tradition to the daughter, and from the passing along of the Rashomon book from Louise to Ghost Dog to Louie. The Hagakure is a major part of the film in a very obvious manner, as is the mafia tradition and hierarchy. The most subtle of these is the book Rashomon and Other Stories.
The story Rashomon is actually a story of one samurai’s dilemma in whether he should steal from the dead, becoming unhonorable or starve to death and retain his honor. He encounters a woman who is stealing hair and actually ends up stealing from the woman. The first story of the book, In The Grove, was specifically mentioned by Pearline and Ghost Dog as their favorite story. It’s a story of a crime told from different perspectives… similar to Louie and Ghost Dog’s varying interpretations of what happened eight years ago that led Ghost Dog to becoming Louie’s retainer.
Yam Gruel is another story in the book about a low ranked samurai who longs for something unattainable, much like Louie longs to be in charge. The fourth story, The Martyr, was about an orphan who becomes an assassin and kills people he has no feelings for for someone he has no particular love for. The Dragon is a story about a priest playing a joke on other priests, but it has an underlying theme of belief without question and the absurdity of such a notion.
These themes are all in something considered insignificant as a book passed along from character to character, but they all played an important part in the storyline. Many themes run throughout this film. The theme of cultures clashing, both within Ghost Dog himself, with Ghost Dog and the Mafia and the tradition of the mafia clashing with the reality. The theme of death, both in a physical and conceptual way, is predominant. The theme of foreshadowing and the use of every element in the film to make the film worthwhile, rather than an elaborate complicated plot, are artistically accomplished.
The theme of loyalty among Ghost Dog’s chosen culture of the samurai, among the mafia family and to a best friend whose language you can’t understand, show the various concepts of the idea of loyalty. The theme of knowledge and its passage along form one generation to the next, one culture to the next, is prevalent through the use of the books.. All these are represented by different elements in the film, such as repetitive use of cartoons, books, pigeons, the Hagakure, and animals.