(Part 17 Of An Ongoing Series)
It is said that what is called “the spirit of an age” is something to which one cannot return. That this spirit gradually dissipates is due to the world’s coming to an end. For this reason, although one would like to change today’s world back to the spirit of one hundred years or more ago, it cannot be done. Thus it is important to make the best out of every generation.
Ghost Dog (Forest Whitaker), reading from Yamamoto Tsunetomo’s Hagakure
Hagakure, the early-18th Century book that Ghost Dog reads throughout his movie, originally offered ways to maintain a warrior’s mindset during an age of relative peace. No doubt Tokugawa Era Japan was worlds removed from Millennial America, and yet with Ghost Dog: The Way Of The Samurai, writer/director Jim Jarmusch recognized that his time might benefit from similar lessons. 1999 was still largely a world of VHS and landlines and wearing shoes through airport metal detectors, but it was all about to change. We were all about to become everyday soldiers in unprecedented theaters of war: The War On Terror, hyper-violent political combat, high-speed-internet psychological warfare. We were about to be beat on, boats in the maelstrom, spun down mercilessly into the future.
We needed a hero. Someone who could strut the line between ancient-school and ultra-modern. Someone who communicates by pigeon, but could also steal cars with a cool digital thingamajig. Someone as handy with a gun as with a katana, who hones his skills on city rooftops soundtracked by scratchy kung fu RZA beats.
Ghost Dog probably shouldn’t be that hero. Let us not forget that, despite his sacred code and teddy bear eyes, Ghost Dog murders some people who don’t really need to be murdered. Sometimes it seems like even Jim Jarmusch loses sight of that. Not that I blame him too much. If I had to choose a retainer in this ever-changing world where nothing makes any sense anymore, I’d probably choose Ghost Dog.