“It is bad when one thing becomes two. One should not look for anything else in the Way of the Samurai. It is the same for anything that is called a Way. If one understands things in this manner, he should be able to hear about all ways and be more and more in accord with his own.” Thus is the struggle of Ghost Dog, an African American trying to live by the Bushido code of the Samurai, as dictacted by the book the Hagakure: Way of the Samurai, while living in a world dominated by the declining respectability of the Italian-American Mafia, the Cosa Nostra. Throughout this film, certain themes including foreshadowing, death, loyalty, and knowledge are maintained and shown in various ways and through various elements, such as cartoons, music, books and animal symbology.
Foreshadowing in this movie is in abundance. Much of the plot is developed, not through dialogue between characters, but in things outside the characters, such as the Hagakure and the cartoons that the characters are watching throughout the film. Scenes from the Hagakure both foreshadow events, and make more prominent the things that go against it. For example, there is a quote form the Hagakure “According to what one of the elders said, taking an enemy on the battlefield is like a hawk taking a bird. Even though it enters into the midst of a thousand of them, it gives no attention to any bird other than the one that it has first marked.” So you expect, when the gangsters find themselves on the roof with the older black man, that they would cut him slack, like they did with the Indian guy. So it comes as a surprise when they shoot him, and it also brings the audience's attention back. In other cases, the Hagakure is used to show what is being done. “In the words of the ancients, one should make his decisions in the space of seven breaths. It is a matter of being determined and having the spirit to break right through to the other side.” This is being read as Ghost Dog makes the decision to go after the Mafia. The cartoons used in this movie are extensive, and all of them are foreshadowing or paralleling the plot. Handsome Frank is watching Betty Boop play with pigeons, and Ghost Dog is seen later in the film playing with the pigeons in a similar manner. The Mob Boss, Vargo, is seen watching a Felix the Cat cartoon, which eerily echoes the mafia's chase of Ghost Dog. They also, were watching the cartoon of Woody and the Grim Reaper, which not only is the foreshadowing of Ghost Dog's death, but also one of the many portents of death in this film. The use of cartoons are a smart
Death plays a significant role in this film. Ghost Dog is a button-man, or assassin, for the Mafia. His death is planned when an assassination goes slightly wrong. We are focused on death from the beginning of the entire movie by a quote from the Hagakure. “The Way of the Samurai is found in death. Meditation on inevitable death should be performed daily. Everyday, when one's body and mind are at peace, one should meditate on being ripped apart by arrows, rifles, spears, and swords. Being carried away by surging waves, being thrown into the midst of a great fire, being struck by lightning. Being shaken to death by a great earthquake, falling from thousand foot cliffs, dying of disease, or committing seppuku at the death of one's master. And everyday without fail, one should consider himself as dead. This is the substance of The Way of the Samurai.” The last line of this passage tells you exactly what this movie is to be about.
We are shown many instances of death and we are also shown more foreshadowing of Ghost Dog's death. One such instance is where Raymond describes Ghost Dog as a bear. “The bear is a solitary animal, adaptable to all sorts of climates, environments and food... the bear is a formidable adversary with no predatory instincts at all. But when surprised or wounded, a bear may attack and becomes very dangerous.” In a later...