Dead Men Don’t Lie: Sacred Texts in Jim Jarmusch’s Dead Man and Ghost Dog:
Way of the Samurai

by Melissa Anne-Marie Curley


1. The films of Akira Kurosawa were heavily influenced by westerns as a genre, particularly the work of director John Ford; Kurosawa’s own samurai pictures were remade as westerns, with The Seven Samurai becoming The Magnificent Seven and Yojimbo becoming A Fistful of Dollars

2. Salyer, G., 1999, “Poetry written with blood: creating death in Dead Man . ” In Imag(in)ing Otherness: Filmic Visions of Living Together, Plate, S. B. and Jasper, D., eds., Atlanta, GA: Scholars Press, 30.

3. Eliade, M., 1961, The Sacred and the Profane: The Nature of Religion, trans. Willard R. Trask, New York: Harper & Row, 1961, 70.

4. Rashōmon takes its title from the title story of Akutagawa’s collection, but much of its plot from another story, “Yabu no naka,” which presents the conflicting accounts given by parties involved in a rape and murder. Jarmusch has Ghost Dog and Pearline puzzle over the pronunciation of “Yabu no naka” together when she returns the book to him:

Ghost Dog: What did you think?

Pearline: I liked all six different stories… But I especially liked the first story. It’s one story, but each person sees a totally different story. That was really good.

Ghost Dog: “Yabu no naka. That’s my favorite too.”

5. Otomo, R., 2000 and 2001, “‘The way of the samurai’—Ghost Dog, Mishima, and modernity’s other.” Senses of Cinema 9. Also appeared in Japanese Studies 21/1, 31-43.

6. ibid .

7. A portion of this passage is cited in the film, from the translation by William Scott Wilson (Kodansha 1988): “It is said that what is called ‘the spirit of an age’ is a thing 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.”

8. Villella, F. A., 2000, “Spirituality in the 21 st Century. Ghost Dog: Way of the Samurai.” Senses of Cinema 7, May.

9. Otomo writes, “The film is a collection of postmodern ‘blank parodies’, to use frequently quoted Fredric Jameson’s definition of postmodernism,” citing Jameson’s “Postmodernism and Consumer Society,” in The Anti-Aesthetic: Essays on Postmodern Culture, Fosterm, H., ed, 1983, Port Townsend, Wash.: Bay Press. In his 1991 Postmodernism, or, the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism, Durham: Duke University Press, Jameson says of pastiche, “Pastiche is, like parody, the imitation of a peculiar or unique, idiosyncratic style, the wearing of a linguistic mask, speech in a dead language. But it is a neutral practice of such mimicry, without any of parody’s ulterior motives, amputated of the satiric impulse, devoid of laughter and of any conviction that alongside the abnormal tongue you have momentarily borrowed, some healthy linguistic normality still exists. Pastiche is thus blank parody, a statue with blind eyeballs” (18).

10. Jarmusch also gets in a nice joke here:

Ghost Dog: Frankenstein. That’s a good book.

Pearline: Yeah, better than the movie.

Ghost Dog: You thought so too?

11. The poet William Blake’s The Book of Thel, a counterpart to his Songs of Innocence, details the search by the young shepherdess Thel for the cause of death.

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