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A Martial Artist’s View of The Film, “Ghost Dog”

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Forest Whittaker is an enigmatic actor.

When you think you have him figured out, he does something to surprise you.

But of course, this shouldn’t be unexpected.

Like a Las Vegas Blackjack dealer who tosses all of the cards face-up, there isn’t much mystery left. Yet, how that same gamesman reaches for the deck to tender the next “hit” always seems to have a lot of suspense.

We know in this movie that Whittaker’s character is a professional hit man whose own life was spared by a gangster, for whom he has plied his deadly trade ever since. They communicate by carrier pigeons, inscribing tiny notes that detail the next target to be whacked.

Whittaker is an unconventional hit man because he openly subscribes to the Samurai code. Periodically, we’re reminded of this because cryptic passages appear on the screen from time to time, telling us how appropriate it is to live each moment as if it is your last, and how things are never quite as they seem.

This movie raises the classical question: How can you be honorable in an inherently dishonorable walk of life?

Is there such a thing as a “good” hit man?

Indeed, when most of us consider Samurai folklore, are we mindlessly glorifying violence, while sanctifying it with a code of conduct that is merely for show?

I’ve often wondered why prize fights feature announcers who are dapperly decked out in tuxedos. Unless I’ve missed something, they’re not doubling as musicians at the chamber orchestra after the bouts, are they?

There is much decorum associated with violence, at least of the positively sanctioned sort.

Duelists, in the European tradition, went out of their way to be fastidious as they tried to blow holes in each other or skewer their counterparts with rapiers.

Why do we need our violence “prettied-up?”

Director Jim Jarmusch shows Whittaker, the Ghost Dog in the title, as an efficient killer who reads books. But the character isn’t deep; just deadly.

I suspect he is closer to today’s generation of martial artists than to those who lived in Samurai times, but then, we’ll never really know, will we?

Dr. Gary S. Goodman, President of, is a popular keynote speaker, management consultant, and seminar leader and the best-selling author of 12 books, including Reach Out & Sell Someone and Monitoring, Measuring & Managing Customer Service, and the audio program, “The Law of Large Numbers: How To Make Success Inevitable,” published by Nightingale-Conant. He is a frequent guest on radio and television, worldwide. A Ph.D. from USC’s Annenberg School, a Loyola lawyer, and an MBA from the Peter F. Drucker School at Claremont Graduate University, Gary offers programs through UCLA Extension and numerous universities, trade associations, and other organizations from Santa Monica to South Africa. He holds the rank of Shodan, 1st Degree Black Belt in Kenpo Karate. He is headquartered in Glendale, California, and he can be reached at (818) 243-7338 or at: [email protected]

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  • Posted On December 13, 2006
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