In fact, Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai in broad outline is an exact paraphrase of the early neo-noir Le Samouraï by Jean-Pierre Melville, whose work Jarmusch also mentions in the credits of his film. In turn, Melville was influenced by Frank Tuttle’s This Gun for Hire (inspired by a novel by Graham Greene), a style-forming film noir from Hollywood in the early forties.
But apart from these obvious sources, Jim Jarmusch proves to be a connoisseur of the film noir tradition, who also tends to use little-known works as resources. When Ghost Dog kills a Mafiosi with a targeted shot that hits the victim in the forehead from the drain of a sink, this kind of invisible targeting is a direct quote from Seijun Suzuki's Branded to Kill (1967), which was still shot in black and white, And that such a film noir, which illustrates a very similar story, suggests that its use in Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai can hardly be considered a coincidence.
The story of this film is certainly not new. It is a tale that emulates role models. But with neo-noir that is almost in the nature of things and so Jim Jarmusch succeeds in what is important, which is to give his work a unique signature. From the actors to the camera work by Robby Müller to the soundtrack by RZA (Wu-Tung Clan), Jarmusch has created a seamless world; the choice of locations adds an atmospheric density that makes other big city thrillers look like stage sets. The mafia portrait--those stuffy henchmen who, contrary to the masterminds, not only behave like petty bourgeoisie, but have joined their ranks--is admirably accurate. And then of course it's Forrest Whitaker's film: Jarmusch, according to his own statements, credited Whitaker as being the catalyst of the project.
The script is filled with film noir bonds: the wound of one's own past, the hidden femme fatale, the finite and fickle nature of one's own fortune against the world. At the same time, however, it does display some weaknesses. Some scenes are too grotesquely funny; others are too long, Additionally, the multitude of quotes from the Hagakure cannot really be appreciated by the viewer during the flow of the plot: the messages become overwhelming. Despite these flaws, however, Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai is a beautiful and atmospheric neo-noir, and is a film capable of revealing more of its essence via repeated viewings.