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Faith, Hope and Anime

RAP-ROCK, the loudmouth hybrid that gained currency in the late 1990's, is largely associated with pop music's seedier impulses — scatological stage props, foul language and Britney bashing. But one of the genre's outfits, Linkin Park, is a sincere voice of hope. And whereas Linkin Park's cynical peers Limp Bizkit and Korn have all but vanished, these nice boys of rap-rock have thrived. Their 2000 debut, "Hybrid Theory," sold 15 million copies worldwide, buoyed by singles like "One Step Closer" and "In the End." The band's follow-up album, "Meteora," has enjoyed an astonishing run as well, with more than four million copies sold in the United States.

In its music videos, Linkin Park favors hyperkinetic images that temper the mawkishness of its lyrics. A lot of the credit for its visual creativity goes to Joseph Hahn, who fills the unusual role of band D.J. and video impresario. Mr. Hahn provided the script for "Breaking the Habit," the final video from "Meteora," but he handed the directing duties over to Kazuto Nakazawa (credited here as Nakazawa), a Japanese anime master best known in this country for his work in Quentin Tarantino's "Kill Bill, Vol. 1."

"Breaking the Habit" looks like a video game programmed by German expressionists, with flat, ghoulish figures floating through a densely layered landscape. The clip opens in a business district of the future. A gleaming skyscraper soars above grimy streets that are peeled away in places to expose the innards of an industrial underbelly. A huge gyroscope — some kind of generator — churns in the distance.
Against this backdrop, four dour vignettes unfold. In the first, Linkin Park's bookish singer, Chester Bennington (or his cartoon double), takes a suicide dive from the top of the skyscraper. In the second, a junkie furtively opens a suitcase full of drug paraphernalia. In the third, a woman crouches amid the debris of a broken mirror, scrawling a note on college-ruled paper: "I am nothing." The fourth shows a philandering husband being pelted with tomatoes. All the while, Mr. Bennington belts out the litany of self-doubt that is the song's first verse: "I don't know what's worth fighting for/ Or why I have to scream/ I don't know why I instigate/ And say what I don't mean."

Then the mood brightens. Mr. Bennington delivers a life-affirming chorus ("I'm breaking the habit/ Breaking the habit, tonight!") and the four stories rewind. The woman erases her note, smashed tomatoes peel off the wall, and Mr. Bennington rises back to the top of the skyscraper. When he lands, his band begins performing behind him. Things are looking up in dystopia.

The backward narrative has become a trendy device in visual storytelling — Jamie Thraves's video for Coldplay's "Scientist" and Gaspar Noй's film "Irrйversible" are recent examples. But whereas Mr. Noй's film spools backward to show the ineluctable sequence of events that leads to a horrific end, "Breaking the Habit" suggests the opposite. Linkin Park are children of the digital age; their style of rock is the art of editing and production rather than spontaneous expression. With its swift leaps toward self-improvement, this video comes across like a tribute to that most beloved of computer key commands: undo. It suggests that, as with typos, real mistakes, like the suicide and drug addiction illustrated here, can be undone.

"Breaking the Habit" may be morally simplistic, but it's a blast to watch. This is a thrilling video, elegantly animated and compellingly paced. And Mr. Nakazawa was a shrewd choice for a band whose largely adolescent audience is already interested in anime. Furthermore, his style is a good aesthetic sparring partner for the band — where Linkin Park blends dark emotions with shiny pop, Mr. Nakazawa's animation contrasts cartoon cuteness with a grim view of humanity. And anime, unlike live action, gives Linkin Park's treacly message enough ironic distance to make it palatable to teens. Best of all, "Breaking the Habit" makes reclaiming your life seem fun and easy. Hit undo and start over, preferably at a rooftop concert.

New York Times - March 30, 2004



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