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April 03, 2000 - Image 8

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Publication:
The Michigan Daily, 2000-04-03

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8A - The Michigan Daily - Monday, April 3, 2000

ARTS

Bad 'Dog' loses
his way in cit

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By Aaron Rich
Daily Arts Writer
Jim Jarmusch is a hard director to
figure out. His films run the edge
between farce and drama so tightly that
it is difficult to tell from moment to
moment whether we should be laugh-
ing or thinking about what we just
heard. It is frequently unclear in his

0 ~
Ghost Dog:
The Way of
the Samurai
Grade: C
At the State

films if what we
see is so screw-
ball that we
should slap our
knees and
chuckle to the
point of tears, or
if in fact what
we are watching
is so arch that it
is Jarmusch who
is laughing at us
and our ambiva-
lent responses.
"Ghost Dog:
The Way of the

a paperback guide to samurai-isms.
Staying true to his samurai roots,
Dog has a master for whom he kills
people. In the urban warrior's case,
his master is a mobster who needs
"jobs" done.
This is not a simple hit man movie
where the muscle meets his boss in a
bar to get the information and the
money. Dog runs a medieval operation
where he sends carrier pigeons (no
joke) from his coup to his patron's
house to give and get messages. Dog is
apparently paid on the first day of
autumn of every year for work he has
done in the past 12 months.
After a minor screw up on the part of
the mobsters, Dog is deemed a liability
and all of the big-gutted Italians go
after the hooded-sweatshirt wearing
warrior. Living by his samurai mantras,
Dog is a slippery one to catch.
There is a whole lot going on in
"Ghost Dog" - things that seem espe-
cially important and close to Jarmusch's
heart and other, sillier things as well.
For one, there is a strong anti-gun, at
least gun awareness, theme throughout
the film that seems to poke fun at the
piece-wielding wise guys. Furthermore,
we see one elderly mobster reciting
Public Enemy lyrics at several key
moments in the story.

MULE
Continued from Page 5
three trucks of men seemed to hurry
through the first half of their set without
so much as a word to the crowd ip
between songs. This silence was broken
mid-set by Haynes' greeting, "How are
y'all doing Detroit?" which came, iron-
ically, before he and bassist Allan
Woody left the stage to allow Abst a
lengthy drum solo that appeared to ge
Mule's engine running.
The St. Andrew's faithful, clad
almost entirely in denim and leather,
was treated to a guest appearance from
ex-Black Crowes guitarist Marc Ford
for the majority of the second portion
of the set. Ford's presence appeared to
loosen up the previously stoic Haynes
and the band began to take their time
with each song, allowing their jams to
finally have some flesh to them with
Ford's licks filling in and over Haynes
leads.
In essence, the real Mule show -the
Mule show that is known for its free
form guitar jamming and soulful blues
- began when Haynes asked "I hope
y'all won't mind if we jam a little up
here."
Even then, it was a little too late to
save the show from mediocrity for
all but the most die-hard fans (wh*
were by this time drunkenly nodding
their heads along to every note any-
ways). Had they come out in fifth-
gear from the start, the night might
have had a much better response
from the majority of the crowd. It is
possible that, like my ride on the way
back home, Mule just didn't have any
gas left from all their time on the road.

Courtesy of Artisan
Ghost Dog (Forest Whitaker) greets his comerade, Samurai in Camouflage (The RZA), on the street and they share a spiritual moment.

Also, the head of the family, Vargo,
only watches cartoons on television. He
is always seen with his eyes glued to the
tube while old and new cartoons
(everything from "Fritz the Cat" to
"Itchy and Scratchy") dance around in
their colorful glory. Again, it is not
clear whether Jarmusch is making fun
of the mobsters, saying they can only
understand childish cartoons or if he is
commenting on violence in media
(which he of course is taking part in).
This is a rather traditional samurai
film. At the same time it is a rather tra-
ditional mobster movie. Bringing the

two forms together serves to underline
the similarities between the two genres
and their common roots in westerns and
noir g-men flicks. But the synthesis
does not work too well,
Several of the characters pass around
a copy of the book "Rashomon," from
which the great Akira Kurosawa film
comes. But aside from their Japanese
and samurai links, that story and this
one seems to have little in common. If
anything, Jarmusch's constant prodding
to think about the Kurosawa master-
piece only serves to show his film as a
weakling. Even if this story were told

from multiple points of view - as
"Rashomon" is - it would still not
clear up any of the gray areas.
Whitaker is especially convincing
in his performance. Being the first
cinematic black samurai, it is impos-
sible for him to sit back and rely on
stereotypes to get his performance
taken care of - which is exactly
what all the actors playing Mafioso
do. Maybe this is done on purpose,
though. Maybe Jarmusch is simply
being sarcastic and he decided to
make a ridiculously trashy and stereo-
typical film. It is still very unclear

Samurai" fits in perfectly to this mold
of unclear genre and message. Title
character, Ghost Dog (Forest Whitak-
er), is a modern-day black samurai with
corn rows. He spends his days on his
apartment building rooftop a la Terry
Malloy of "On the Waterfront," reading

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