Ghost dog: the way of the samurai
With Jim Jarmusch's Ghost Dog: The Path of the Samurai, which was republished today by Criterion Collection, the filmmaker publishes for the first time online Peter Bowen's interview with Jarmusch and the actor Forest Whitaker from our winter edition 2000.
In Jim Jarmusch's latest adventure Ghost dog: the way of the samuraiThe title character, played by Forest Whitaker, finds himself on a collision course with the mob after a local chef's daughter (Tricia Vessey) sees him score a hit. Soon Ghost Dog is declared a "liability" and a hit is ordered against him as well. Of course, this mysterious urban samurai easily eludes the bumblebee until he meets a final opponent – a two-bit foot soldier who saved his life years earlier. And as that struggle progresses, Ghost Dog faces its ultimate conflict, not with death but with himself – between his identity as a warrior and his devotion to a code that insists that loyalty comes before survival.
Of course, this plot summary barely shows the larger tapestry of eccentric characters, twisted subplots, and captivating imagery that make up Jarmusch's film. However, it suggests a recurring motif. As in his other films, the narrative becomes the inevitable by-product of a cultural collision. Whether it's your Hungarian cousin looking for a place to live Stranger than paradise, the Italian convict escapes through the Louisiana bayous in According to the lawor the cheerful Japanese tourists who pay homage to Elvis in Mystery TrainAmerica is a place of cultural misinterpretation, psychological adjustments and strange juxtapositions. It's a place that is constantly moving in and out of focus and resembles the American West, Homeland India, or the Land of the Dead at all times.
No wonder then that the word "surrealistic" appears so often in the definition of Jarmusch's work. But Jarmusch actually works in contradiction to the surrealists. His aim is not to sketch the incomprehensible ideas of the unconscious, but to capture the phenomenal reality of life in America here and now. What high school history books call a "melting pot" is the foundation for it Ghost dogs cinematic vision: a kaleidoscope of cultures, genres, languages and narratives that mutate into something new before our very eyes. As can be seen from the numerous cars that the protagonist steals, the world glides by, the neighborhoods, shops and billboards blur in the soundtrack of hip-hop artist and composer RZA. The genre of the film is, as Jarmusch defines it, "a gangster-samurai-hip-hop-eastern-western".
True to the Buddhist influence of the film, perhaps the only consistent element in the film is the change itself, a reality that Ghost Dog stoically takes up as part of his “Path of the Samurai”. And while the world of independent film has changed drastically since its history Stranger than paradiseJarmusch has consistently maintained his own artistic code of conduct – the belief in character-based stories, independent funding and the importance of the director's vision.
Filmmakers: The world of Ghost dog is such a merging of different themes and motifs. Where did the idea for the film come from?
Jim Jarmusch: I wanted to do a movie with Forest, so I had to come up with a character. I thought of Don Quixote, someone following a code the world no longer pays attention to, and I've always been interested in Eastern culture and Japanese culture. And there is Melvilles Le Samouraiwho has a samurai killer, but there were other things too: Suzuki and Kurosawa films and films like Point blankand books like Frankenstein and Don Quixote. And I've read Hagakure: The Book of the Samurai and another book Bushido: The Samurai Code. It all made sense somehow. But I find it very difficult to say, "Well, the ideas came in that order." Because they don't. I collect all kinds of fragments and then take a picture to see what the story looks like.
Filmmakers: How did you meet?
Forest Whitaker: We met in a Super 8 camera store. You worked on it Year of the horseand I got some things for my camera.
Jarmusch: I always start with actors I want to work with and then create a character with them. This time I would be flying to LA, and even if I could only talk to Forest for an hour or two, I would throw things at him. There were vague and incoherent ideas at first, and he responded with details and thoughts about the story and the character. So our collaboration started earlier than usual when working with a particular actor.
Filmmakers: In the film, the mix of samurai, mob, and violent cartoons seems to suggest that the film is a meditation on violence.
Jarmusch: No not at all. The violence in the film simply reflects the history of the people. If people say, “Better watch out for the violence,” you might as well start banning the Bible. Surely there are inappropriate ways or ways that my own soul does not want to use violence. But that is universal. The cartoons are a different layer, resonance or nuance of things. They are echoes of things that have happened in history. What I don't like is that some people have said the cartoons are there because the gangsters are very cartoonish. I just like cartoons, and I like the idea of adults watching cartoons.
Filmmakers: Yes, but even the "Itchy and Scratchy" cartoons you referenced appear in an episode of "The Simpsons" that deals with the depiction of violence.
Jarmusch: Violence is exactly what Ghost Dog is. He is a warrior and follows a warrior code. He acts in violent situations as a warrior should. There is a man in the film who only appears briefly in the background to do a few kung fu moves. This guy, Yang Mind Shi, is a Shao Lin monk who defected from China. He's like a priest, but he's also a warrior. He is an expert on kung fu. The two things are completely coordinated in the Shao Lin culture. You are taught to be a warrior and to kill, but also to be an enlightened priest.
Whitaker: To be whole, to have duality and to know both sides of everything – I think Ghost Dog is aware of that, at least as a character. He is not satisfied, but he is strong in what he knows to be the order of his life. I don't think he sees what he's doing as a violent act. It's just an extension of something he has to do to keep the order by which he lives.
Filmmakers: While the violence maintains order in a certain way, the film itself, with its mix of genres, cultures and languages, exerts a certain formal violence.
Jarmusch: Or I would say synthesis. America is about the synthesis of many different cultures, and beauty comes from that synthesis. I don't see this as violence against clashing cultures, but as part of something. The Italians don't even work in an Italian restaurant anymore. It's a chinese restaurant. Ghost Dog himself is an urban black character, but he follows a code from another culture and century, Japanese samurai culture.
Filmmakers: The film is changing. It seems like a gangster movie and then turns into something completely different and unexpected.
Jarmusch: Yeah i don't know what it is Is it a gangster samurai hip-hop Eastern Western? I want it to have elements of all of these things, but none.
Filmmakers: Obviously, it's difficult to make a movie that isn't easy to categorize. How did you secure the financing?
Jarmusch: I put it together like I have for the last number of films. I'm going outside of the US and getting investors from Japan (JVC), France (Bac and Canal Plus) and Germany (Pandora). It's not a big budget movie so they respect our right to make the movie the way we want it to be. It's business for them and me too. I have full artistic control. When I avoid American money, nobody on my back tells me who to cast, how to cut it, what music to use. Nothing. I don't even have to show them a rough cut if I don't want to. I can just wait for the movie to finish to show you. And they agree with that.
Filmmakers: Why this? Why do foreign investors behave so differently from Americans?
Jarmusch: I think we have a track record now. They always got more or less their money back. Well, I'm not entirely sure about Dead Man. But they were happy. And so I am happy. And I'm pretty good at getting there on time and on budget. I never go far. And if I got American money, they'd want to be part of the creative part of the film.
Whitaker: If I were to produce a Jim Jarmusch movie, I would be very comfortable if I just let it go and do what it has to do. Otherwise you would just destroy his film.
Jarmusch: It's a mutual respect. I don't tell them how to run their businesses and they don't tell me how to make a movie. It's a very happy collaboration.
Filmmakers: And very un-American.
Jarmusch: Even if you want to make a $ 2 million movie here, you have to sit with a group of men in suits who say, "Let's go through the story points. Should the chick not take off her shirt for the first 15 minutes ? "I would be in jail if I had to because I was sure to bring a guy to my knees or go crazy.
Filmmakers: Something must have happened mentally, intellectually and physically for the former Ghost Dog to become the future Ghost Dog in the flashback?
Jarmusch: That is a difficult question. It's like asking why someone becomes an enlightened teacher. Or why do they become what they are? We thought up a lot of details, personal things in his life that happen – like a violent situation that is reflected in the garish cover of the book Rashomon, with a raped girl and a tied man who cannot protect her. And we imagined such a story that might have happened to Ghost Dog. There's a photo of a girl in his apartment and we had a little dialogue talking about it. But we took it out because I thought it was trying to justify something and give the audience some motivation. I think it weakened the power of its transformation. In the end, there's just the fact that he went through this, and now he's that guy.
Filmmakers: Even Ghost Dog's actions seem to synthesize different cultures and icons. How he handles a CD or puts his gun back into the holster.
Jarmusch: Forest brought all of these things into the film. The idea came from the way a sword becomes an extension of your body. Ghost Dog uses weapons in his work, but he treats them like a samurai would have treated a sword. He does everything very consciously. It's not ritual. Rather, his actions are an extension of himself, as in the martial arts.
Filmmakers: Similarly, in the film, the music always seems to be an extension of the story. Not so much a comment, but a kind of partner to the picture.
Whitaker: When we started working on the project, Jim gave me tapes – things, ideas that inspired him back then – music that guided or inspired me. As part of the process, he got into the music.
Jarmusch: Music is the most beautiful form of expression. Music inspires me all the time. And while I write or think, I get more inspiration from music than from films or literature. From the beginning I had the dream of getting RZA to make the music. The only problem is that RZA didn't place the music the way I hoped. His idea was to work in a complete hip-hop style: “I'm going to give you music that is inspired by what you do. I'll give it to you then you put it in the movie. "Then I would try to get RZA to come in and give me comments, but his comments were," It's all good. "
Whitaker: You placed the music really beautifully. The music is really the soul of the film.
Jarmusch: I don't like a score that tells you what to feel. I like music that is woven into the fabric of the thing. I get personally offended sometimes when music makes me feel like a fool when she tells me, "This is very sad."
Filmmakers: What is the difference? How do you create a conversation between film and music?
Jarmusch: I don't want to sound presumptuous, but it's a very zen thing that the two of them tell you what they want you to do to them. If you are trying in your head to force one into the other, it seems to be wrong. On the other hand, I don't want to force an image and music on the way you feel. "How do you feel here?" And then they tell you. I don't know how to explain, but it works. And if it doesn't work, sound and image don't want to be together. I know that sounds a bit abstract and stupid, but it is.