Monday, August 13, 2007

LE SAMOURAI (Jean-Pierre Mellville, 1967, France)
There is no solitude greater than the samurai's, unless perhaps it be that of a tiger in the jungle. -The Book of Bushido

And so begins Jean-Pierre Mellville’s masterpiece as we are introduced to the lonely hitman Jef Costello, meditating silently in his drab hotel room in a haze of cigarette smoke amid the friendly chirps of his parakeet. LE SAMOURAI was produced in 1967 and even then it had a throwback film-noir feel that resurrected the classic anti-hero like Bogey in THE BIG SLEEP, THE MALTESE FALCON, CASABLANCA or KEY LARGO. High praise indeed! This french film (yes, it’s subtitled) has a simple structure and narrative as Costello follows his orders to perfection and is double-crossed by his employers. There are no gimmicky flashbacks, camera angles, or headache-inducing edits to freeze our brains and confuse the story; the suspense is crafted logically in a way that reflects Jef’s view of the situation. He follows the rigid code of the samurai and it is duty first even if, no especially if, it leads to his own death. Costello follows his last contract to the very end and dies on his own terms. (B)

Jarmusch’s GHOST DOG is a modern retelling of the samurai as hitman. There are some striking similarities between the two films such as their penchant for birds, their isolated emotionless existence, they both steal cars, both are intelligent and masters at assassination, there is a mysterious dark haired girl, and they both follow their code to the very end. Ghost Dog follows the Hagakure and the film transitions with many quotes from this fabled Bushido code. We also get a peek at GD’s life and understand some of his motivations; that is, why he owes so much to an Italian mobster and considers himself this guys retainer. The film is funny at times, violent, and very sad. I think this is Jarmusch’s best film to date.
Watch both films back-to-back and you will not be disappointed. Maybe you will scour eBay for copies of the Hagakure or other samurai philosophy. Maybe you will read these books. Maybe this will cure you or your far-insightedness and learn to live in the moment. Maybe your life will change. It’s up to you. (B+)

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