Ghost Dog and Genre Hybridity

I wouldn’t call myself a fan of Ghost Dog. It was certainly an interesting film. It definitely was made by an artist who was knowledgeable of film, genre, and narrative arts. But something never really clicked for me. It could be as simple as I think Forrest Whittaker was completely wrong for the role. Or it could be the fact that I never really connected with the story. I’ll rest in terms of my critique, but the film did offer an interesting look into genre theory.

I don’t want to herald this film as a genre defying or film redefining because it is not the first nor last film to play with genres and make them something completely unique. In fact, this hybridity is pretty common now a days and it is actually rarer to get a pure traditional genre narrative where the film structure hits every single elements necessary to be considered a “fill in the blank.”

The film tackles the hit man genre, the Italian Mafia genre, the philosophical and eastern martial arts style films, and the crime thriller genre to form a unique tale of a samurai practicing contemporary black hit man working for the decaying, comical versions of the italian mafia in the dying post industrial “any town USA.” The story is simple… botched job, mob wants to kill the man responsible, the man responsible is a bad ass, and the bad ass takes down his pursuers until reaching his end. The film STRUCTURE isn’t anything new. What is unique, however, is the relationships between the characters who not only fall into different genre categories and represent separate syntax and semantics, but also play them in an out of place context. The mobsters are not the opulent, powerful, terrifying leaders were used to from the godfather… They are goons, thugs, degenerates who are late on their electric bills. Ghost Dog has the mindset and dialogue of an Asian samurai from 1732 but instead he is practicing his tradecraft with contemporary weapons in a modern setting. The match up leads to sub funny genre playing and an even funnier (if not depressing end). Ghost dog, who views his allegiance to his master as undying, gives his life to a man who barely understands Ghost Dog’s prerogative. They are from completely different worlds, genres, lives yet they come together to form a coherent story.  It’s pretty interesting. Perhaps what really bothered me is these people just wouldn’t exist in the real world and they were so over the top in terms of their caricature portrayals that I was taken out of the story. Obviously, however, that was Jarmusch’s intent and I have to respect the man for being original. I personally think a man like Tarantino takes Jarmusch’s approach so much further and executes his genre defying/mutating stories with so much more brass, subtly, better structure/dialogue, and better acting that I am almost never sucked out of his stories even when the scenes border on and surpass absurd.

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