In 1995, Jarmusch released Dead Man, a period film set in the 19th century American West starring Johnny Depp and Gary Farmer. Produced at a cost of almost $9 million with a high-profile cast including John Hurt, Gabriel Byrne and, in his final role, Robert Mitchum, the film marked a significant departure for the director from his previous features. Earnest in tone in comparison to its self-consciously hip and ironic predecessors, Dead Man was thematically expansive and of an often violent and progressively more surreal character. The film was shot in black and white by Robby Müller, and features a score composed and performed by Neil Young, for whom Jarmusch subsequently filmed the tour documentary Year of the Horse, released to tepid reviews in 1997.
Jarmusch (left) and Isaach de Bankolé (right) promoting The Limits of Control at the San Sebastian International Film Festival in September 2009.
Though ill-received by mainstream American reviewers, Dead Man found much favor internationally and among critics, many of whom lauded it as a visionary masterpiece. It has been hailed as one of the few films made by a Caucasian that presents an authentic Native American culture and character, and Jarmusch stands by it as such, though it has attracted both praise and castigation for its portrayal of the American West, violence, and especially Native Americans.
Following artistic success and critical acclaim in the American independent film community, he achieved mainstream renown with his far-East philosophical crime film Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai, shot in Jersey City and starring Forest Whitaker as a young inner-city man who has found purpose for his life by unyieldingly conforming it to the Hagakure, an 18th-century philosophy text and training manual for samurai, becoming, as directed, a terrifyingly deadly hit-man for a local mob boss to whom he may owe a debt, and who then betrays him. The soundtrack was supplied by RZA of the Wu-Tang Clan. The film was unique among other things for the number of books important to and discussed by its characters, most of them listed bibliographically as part of the end credits. The film is also considered to be an homage to Le Samourai, a 1967 French New Wave film by auteur Jean-Pierre Melville, which starred renowned French actor Alain Delon in a strikingly similar role and narrative.