Ghost Dog: Way of the Samurai Review

Colin Polonowski has reviewed the Region 2 DVD release of Ghost Dog: Way of the Samurai

I didn’t quite know what to expect with Ghost Dog: Way of the Samurai – I didn’t know much about the film and apart from a couple of positive comments in the forums I hadn’t read anything about it. Seeing as VCI so kindly sent me a copy to review I finally had a chance to see for myself if it’s ‘my kind of film’.

Forest Whitaker puts in his best performance to date as Ghost Dog – a hitman who lives by the Samurai code. As a professional killer, he carries out occasional contracts for Louie (John Tormey) – a member of a particularly dysfunctional mafia family. One of these contracts just so happens to be the murder of Handsome Frank (Richard Portnow). This is witnessed by Louise Vargo (Tricia Vessey) – daughter of the head of the mafia family, Ray Vargo (Henry Silva). Not entirely happy about this, Ray puts a price on Ghost Dog’s head and mayhem ensues!

The film walks a very fine line between seriousness and comedy. Violence can and does erupt without warning, but there’s a darkly comic edge to the proceedings. Some aspects of Ghost Dog reminded me of Luc Besson’s Leon – not only is Ghost Dog a professional killer, he also befriends a young girl Pearline (Camille Winbush).

Jim Jarmusch’s script and direction is nothing short of perfect – there is an overall sense of style which many films lack. While Ghost Dog: Way of the Samurai doesn’t really tread any new ground, it still manages to be wholly original and is a real breath of fresh air – especially at a time when film cliché’s are at a all-time high.

Ghost Dog manages to offer a lot – no matter what style of film you enjoy, there’s a good chance you’ll find it here.

The DVD is a mixed bag – technically it’s near enough perfect. VCI have once again managed to impress.

The picture is framed at 16:9 (the OAR is 1.85:1, but it’s a near as makes no difference), and is anamorphically enhanced. There are no digital artefacts as far as I can tell and the print is in good shape (not surprising given that the film only entered the cinema’s last year!) The DVD transfer makes good use of what is a fairly muted palette – there is plenty of detail on display throughout and given that colour is not extensively used, when it is the picture really does come to life.

The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack is perfect. Good use is made of the entire soundstage and the outstanding hip-hop soundtrack by The RZA really does come into it’s own with good use made of the low frequency provided by a sub-woofer.

Now for the disappointing bit – all we get are a few outtakes and a theatrical trailer. Nothing to write home about – in fact there’s not much else I can say about either. This is a real shame – the Region 1 release certainly delivers the goods with TV Spots, Deleted Scenes, Cast/Crew Biographies, Documentaries, Filmographies, Music Videos and an Isolated Score – so why don’t we get all this on our disc? VCI are usually pretty good in this department so I expect contractual and copyright reasons are to blame. One thing both discs lack is a commentary – I would really like to hear Jim Jarmusch’s opinion on the film so this is a real shame.

Overall, I highly rate the film and VCI have done the business with the transfer. It’s therefore unfortunate that the Region 1 disc is better as I really would like to be able to recommend the Region 2 release. I can’t comment on whether or not the Region 1 disc actually offers much in the way of quality content over this release, but it certainly looks like it does. That said, the film does stand well on its own which is more than can be said of some recent DVD releases so the lack of extra material isn’t a complete disaster.

Colin Polonowski

Updated: Feb 27, 1999

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