The worlds of American alternative rock and Japanese anime just go together naturally with their dark, edgy, introspective explorations.
So why has there been little in the way of collaborations between major American rock bands and top Japanese anime creators?
Having directed a full-scale anime video for Linkin Park's song "Breaking the Habit," band member and video director Joe Hahn thinks he knows the answer after an intense three-month production process.
"Something like this usually takes a year," Hahn says. "You're dealing with a team of people in another country. You have to pre-plan every single detail. Once you give the order to do something, you're committing to it. It requires a lot of foresight. You can't afford to make a mistake. Tell someone to do something wrong and it's too much time and money to do it again."
With Hahn's direction, the video was animated by Kazuto Nakazawa of Tokyo's Production I.G., who also did the stunning, bloody anime sequence in Quentin Tarantino's "Kill Bill Vol. 1." Nakazawa, says Hahn, drew most of the frames for "Breaking the Habit" himself.
The clip will also be accompanied by the publication of a full manga book, the Japanese-originated graphic book in which the story is told frame by frame in illustration. This also is a first for a rock video.
The video depicts three troubled situations going on in one gritty, urban apartment high-rise.
"All of these people are going through emotional problems, things they're not happy with," says Hahn. "One of the guys has a drug problem, there's a girl who's not happy with herself and a couple that's having trouble. They're living their lives in a way that might be regretful."
In the most disturbing image, we see the first young man, who looks a lot like Linkin singer Chester Bennington, lying on top of a crumpled car roof, apparently having committed suicide by jumping from the building. Halfway through the video, though, time reverses and, among other things, the body levitates back up and to life.
"The song goes, 'If I could turn back time, what would I do?' " Hahn explains. "It's kind of a resurrection, not in a religious sense, but in a sense that we understand what was going on."
The apparent suicide element is particularly notable in the wake of controversy over Britney Spears' recent "Everytime" video clip, in which the singer is seen apparently drowned in a bathtub. Elements of that video were changed to make the death seem clearly accidental, which Spears said was the intent in the first place. For the Linkin Park video, Hahn says, there is no intent for the character's death to be seen as suicide.
"The way we illustrated it, we never say there's a suicide," he says. "It's not a suicide thing, but emotional problems that people go through, something you have in your life you can't do anything about or think you can't do anything about. You always have a choice, no matter how difficult it is."
Tom Calderone, executive vice president of music for MTV and MTV2, says that the dark subject matter is appropriate both for the song and the visual style, and is thrilled that a prominent band has taken what he sees as a creative risk.
"It's anime, always going to be a little edgier," he says. "You can't do anime that feels like bubble gum. It's always going to have a dark side. I like the fact that the band took the initiative to do something different. We're doing a lot to support this."
Calderone says that the video will air exclusively for a week starting Monday on mtvU (the channel's 24-hour college network) before starting full rotation on MTV and MTV2, with a "Making of the Video" program premiering May 24.
For Hahn, this video is also a step in his budding direction career. He has done the new clip for the band Story of the Year's "Anthem of Our Dying Day," and has optioned the book "King Rat" (a modern retelling of the Pied Piper story in the late-'90s London underground culture, not the James Clavell war novel of the same title) with hopes to develop a feature film.
What a perfect gift for Father's Day
Hip-HOP collective Ruff Ryders member/co-CEO Waah Dean was getting tired of his father and business mentor Elbert Shamsi-Dean getting on his case about the harsh language and attitudes of rap. So Waah and his co-CEO siblings who run the mega-successful combine (home to DMX, Eve, the LOX and others) have created a new division of the company for dad -- Ruff Pop, which will launch later this year with a debut album from female singer LT.
"My pops is really the backbone of the Ruff Ryders," says Dean. "He's been converted into hip-hop, though he was like, 'I don't understand these guys. They curse too much.' He's like, conservatism, R&B; -- he likes that. So 'Dad, you're gonna run Ruff Pop since you've got a swing on it.' "
LT, a 23-year-old Scottsdale, Ariz., native now based in New York, was introduced to the Ruff Ryders by manager Kristi Clifford, who also handles rap artist Kid Capri. The singer now becomes the first white artist and the first non-rap act in the Yonkers-based Ruff Ryders stable, but Dean says none of that is an issue for the venture.
"What we are going to do is let the music speak for itself," he says. "We think that coming from hip-hop we need to expand into other things and not just be one dimension."
That's been a risky strategy for other hip-hop-heavy companies. Priority, for example, failed in a mid-'90s move into rock. But Dean is not worried.
"LT has crazy hot songs, her style is unique," he says. "What we're going to do is put out good music, support her and we've got a lot of relationships with radio stations. The pop world is a little different from hip-hop -- a lot different. But we've got a team that understands it."
Protest song caveat: times are a-changin'
Protest songs by nature often become anachronistic as times change. But a new one by Mark Olson, the former Jayhawks co-founder and independent folk stalwart, could well be anachronistic before it's readily available. Heck, in these times of ever-shortening news cycles, it could be obsolete by the time this item is published.
"End of the Highway Rumsfeld," a call for secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld to be removed from his post, was written and recorded months ago, well before the current scandal about prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib prison near Baghdad broke. And it's just one of 11 songs on Olson's "Political Manifest" album, all critical of President George W. Bush's administration.
"I knew when I made the record it would be obsolete in a matter of months," says Olson, laughing, when reached before a show in Barcelona. "When I sat down to do it, I did it in two days. I wrote really fast, didn't edit myself, just made the record."
"Political Manifest" is for the moment only being sold by Olson at concerts and through a tiny Minneapolis label, Mercy Recordings. But soon it will be available through Olson's own website, www.creekdipper.com. He and wife Victoria Williams have also launched a topical website, www.politicalmanifest.com.