[Five Deadly Everythings]

Interview with: HOK KONISHI

Posted in dance, hip-hop, interviews by Jef on January 23, 2008
(Scene Guy Exclusive)

Hokuto Konishi is better known to reality show fans as simply “Hok.” A well-traveled bboy who now lives in California, he was featured on the third season of So You Think You Can Dance. For myself, the show started as a guilty pleasure but grew into something more. For a summer-slotted reality competition, there was a surprising amount of sincerity and genuine talent on display.

Hok exemplified the show’s potential and central premise — taking a dancer and putting them out of their element, a premise that simultanesouly creates the fish-out-of-water scenarios that so many reality programs thrive on, while also displaying to a mainstream audience the virtuosity, artistry and sheer athleticism present in the world of dance.

As a bboy, Hok’s exuberance takes precedence over his (formidable) technical skills. Not one to rely on mere tricks, Hok’s strength is his performative instincts. He’s not just dancing; he’s entertaining, he’s emoting, and he’s engaging with the music, the movements and the audience. So it’s not surprising that Hok is an artist in other mediums as well — he’s a talented visual artist and accomplished violinist, other forms of expression that he plans on pursuing after his arms and legs can no longer do the things he wants them to. “Dancing is something you can do only while your body functions, so I decided to take that as my career for now,” he says.

I talked to him over the phone from Toronto to L.A.

Scene Guy: How you doin man?

Hok: I’m good!

Tell us a little about your background; you originally come from…?

Yes, I born in Japan and then my whole family moved to England when I was three. And I moved back when I was 12. And then I came to America three years ago.

So do you identify yourself as being British?

Uhm, I would say Japanese and English. I mean, I’m 100 per cent Japanese by blood, but still, I’ve lived half of my life in England.

It’s one thing to move to the states, but it’s another thing to go to L.A. Was there a lot of culture shock coming to California?

Yeah… I think I’ve gotten used to a lot of things already, but most definitely it was a big difference for me.

You said after your elimination from the show that you “kind of knew it was coming.” And with this season especially, there were a lot of left-field decisions where judges were saving people or eliminating people even though they had strong performances. Given that unpredictable atmosphere, what made you think that this was your time to leave?

Well, just because of the comments I had been getting from the judges. It seemed, well — it did make sense in one way — but it’s just like, there’s different perspectives on how to actually see the piece. It just seemed like ever since [I danced] the waltz, it seemed like whatever I did I was unable to bring their wall down. And it felt — and I mean I might be wrong — but it felt like they had made their mind up already. That there was nothing I could do to change it. I really felt, for the solos – whatever I did, they had their minds made up already.

With your final performance, the broadway number by Tyce D’Orio… A lot of the fans were saying that it should have been the choreographer’s fault that you didn’t have enough to do during the dance. Is that something you would agree with?

Uhm, I really don’t want to say it was the choreographer’s fault, because they really do an amazing job every week, and it’s hard work for them to choreograph something every week. And yeah, honestly, I think if I wasn’t a breakdancer, Tyce would have been able to put more stuff in there for me. But I guess he doesn’t know a lot of the things I could do either. So we probably needed a lot more communication there. But it was sad that the other judges didn’t like it. If we had a stronger number, it might have changed [the outcome]. But then, you can say that for anyone.

Who was your favourite choreographer to work with?

Definitely Wade Robson.

Was it the dance itself, or was it him as a person?

Well, his choreography itself is amazing. The ideas, and the way he thinks, his mind, is what really interests me. And just being an artist myself, I can connect to the way he thinks. He is something that’s way beyond a dancer and a choreographer.

Was there someone that you wanted to work for but you didn’t have the chance to?

I would have wanted to work with Mia [Michaels]. I don’t come from a technical background so of course it would have been really hard, but still, I love her work, so I wanted to experience her through that. It was sad that I got cut before I got the chance, but yeah. At least I wasn’t cut before doing Wade’s.

Is there anyone from the show that you think you’ll stay in contact with?

Yeah. I’ll probably, most likely, stay in contact with Lacey, D-Trix [aka Dominic], Sabra and Lauren.

Speaking of D-Trix, what was like with the other breakers, Dominic and Sara? Because of your background, were you guys drawn together at the beginning?

I knew Dominic from around two years ago. We met at this competition from another audition together. So we were just really happy that we were able to go this far together. Just supporting each other. And I hadn’t met Sara before the show.

In the world of b-boying, how unique is a girl breakdancer?

It depends on the b-girl, but a lot of them tend to be weaker just because a lot of the techniques and stuff. But there are some b-girls definitely, because obviously there are some things that girls can do and guys can’t, and there’s a lot of b-girls who pull that off too. And Sara’s an amazing b-girl, and what I think is great about her is when she breaks, she has that real hip-hop attitude, really hard. But when it comes to dancing the other styles she can be really feminine, and switch it up, and that’s what I think is really great about her.

You’ve said before that you’re “obsessed with beauty,” and we saw some of your artwork and saw you playing violin on the show. I’m wondering, was there any dance numbers this season that stood out to you as particularly beautiful?

A contemporary piece done by Lacey and Neil by Mia Michaels. That was just amazing. I don’t know the words to describe the piece, it was just… they created a whole new world. I actually feel from the bottom of my heart that when you see something so beautiful, it’s like nothing else in the world matters. And it really seemed like time didn’t matter. When you’re in the moment, you don’t have to think about time going on. It was a really amazing thing to actually see that.

A lot of people think the same thing about your own number, the Hummingbird and the Flower by Wade. When you were going through the rehearsals for that, did you know that dance was going to have as much of an impact as it did?

Definitely that piece was really different. Not just the depth of the music, but we had to go in depth on what the piece was really about, and how it feels inside. I think during the rehearsals I didn’t know what it would turn out like, just because I’d never done anything like that before. When I watched it on TV back in the apartment it was really weird because I love that piece and I felt it was beautiful – but the person dancing on TV was me. It didn’t actually connect when I first watched it. It was amazing.

How has the show changed you as a dancer or as a person?

It made me widen my horizons so much and because of that it opened up my mind and really helped me with the way I think. And I think that’s the way it helped me grow as a person.

What can we expect next from you?

I’ll hopefully be able to go travel and inspire people with my dancing. Because that’s how I actually started dancing. As I would watch it on TV in Japan, the feeling I got was nothing like anything that I’d ever felt. The feeling you get… It’s just amazing.

Hok’s audition
Hok, Sara, and Dominic in Toronto



Posted in shameless plugs by Jef on January 17, 2008

Hi Scene-sters,

Check out:

— for my q&a with Jin where talk politics as usual (c)Jay-Z

Then head over to:

— for a kind shout out from Edmonton author Minister Faust (he links to a scan of a profile piece I did on him centered on his extremely fun and witty novel, From the Notebooks of Dr. Brain).

Jin vs. Verse
ISBW audio interview with Minister Faust

Beautiful fighters

Posted in dance, martial arts by Jef on January 14, 2008

Even though it’s been years since I’ve trained in MMA (mixed martial arts, for those still under a rock), I’m still a huge sucker for a beautiful fighter.

And no, unlike the rest of the internet, I’m not posting about how hot Gina Carano aka new American Gladiator “Crush” is (then again, I guess I just did). I’m posting about how beautiful her technique is.

There are a million fighers out there that are amazing fighters, but they aren’t beautiful. Chuck Liddell comes to mind right away as an incredible fighter who also happens to be a really ugly fighter. He’s flatfooted, he moves his arms weirdly, and he often leans away when punching. Sakuraba, one of my all-time favourites, is also an ugly fighter. He uses this to his advantage, psyching his opponent out with odd, unpredictable movements, but still: ugly ugly fugly.

Carano, on the other hand, is balanced, calm, and her strikes snap sharply. I don’t know how to explain it, but the trajectory of her kicks, their lines (to steal a term from dance), is one of the things that puts the art in martial art. Fighters such as her are a treat to watch.

Alot of fighters seem to have beautiful technique in their training reels, but then look sloppier during a match. It makes sense — a non-compliant opponent is not the same as a training partner holding pads. The distancing is different, you lose the impeccable timing, your equilibreum shifts.

Carano does have a tendency to let her power get the best of her — when her shots start landing she just lets loose, sometimes throwing the same punch more than once in succession if she lands it the first time (similar to how Jet Li’s character fought in Unleashed). But on average, she is one of those rare fighters who moves pretty much the same while fighting as she does training.

I’m supressing the urge to make a comparison between martial arts and dance because I know nothing about dance. But it’s the closest thing I can compare it to, in terms of movements with a partner. But of course, a fight isn’t choreographed. Keeping appropriate distance and timing in combat — with a non-compliant ‘dance partner’ who is trying to either crash the distance or create a bigger gap and hoping to fuck up your sense of timing — while keeping your movements accurate and purposeful, is a much different skill.

And I think makes it all the more aesthetically pleasing when such a skill level is achieved.

Meet Gina Carano
Bruce Lee on how martial arts are “art”

Lupe Fiasco’s "Hip Hop Saved My Life"

Posted in break it down, hip-hop, music, rap by Jef on January 12, 2008

“The Cool” is definitely my favourite album right now, and “Hip-Hop Saved My Life” is currently my favourite track.

It’s one of the more accessible tracks on a sometimes dense conceptual album, with a feel-good chorus that counteracts against alot of the recent “hip-hop is dead” type sentiments, and even directly goes against Lupe’s image of not caring about hip-hop. It feels affirmative, positive, inspirational, and yeah, it works on that level.

On another level though, it interacts eerily with the themes of the album’s central story — seduction and ambition, the trappings of success, tragic downfalls and death. Basically, it’s the story of a emcee who wants a life like “the sights on TV.” So he sits down and writes a song over a “whack ass beat” just because everyone else tells him that it sounds hot. He has writer’s block, but he hears his baby crying in the other room and thinks of the Cadillac he wants and this pushes him towards success. “Stack that cheese,” he writes for a chorus. End first verse.

The second and third verses are what I love. So far, Lupe’s been using a consistent, metronome flow, each line ending with a stressed, stretched word. But midway through the second verse, after he says “Got a daddy servin‘ life and a brother on the Row”, he takes a breath, picks up speed and spits out:

“Best homie in the grave, tatted up while in the cage
Minute maid, got his momma workin‘ like a slave
Down baby momma, who he really had to honor
‘Cause she was his biggest fan, even let him use her Honda to
Drive up to Dallas went to open up for amateurs
Let him keep a debit card, so he could put gas in it
Told her when he get on he gon‘ take her to the galleria
And buy everything, but the mannequins, ya dig?”

He does this again on the third and final verse to even greater effect. Again, midway through the verse, this time after he says “[He] put on another beat, and got back to the mission of,’ he spits out in rapid succession:

“Get his momma out the hood, put her somewhere in the woods
Keep his lady lookin‘ good, have her rollin‘ like she should
Show his homies there’s a way, other than that flippinyay
Bail his homie outta jail, put a lawyer on his case
Throw a concert for the school, show the shoulders that it’s cool
Throw some candy on the Caddy, chuck the deuce and act a fool
Man it feels good when it happens like that
Two days from going back to sellin‘ crack

The way Lupe takes a breath and spits out the end of these verses adds a sense of urgency that I love. They’re in list form, almost like to-do lists; all the things that weigh on the mind of the song’s subject. These are his dream-like ambitions and his real-life concerns, and now that “Stack That Cheese” has blown up, they are swirling and suffocating him, just as Lupe’s flow is swirling and suffocating us.

When the chorus says “Hip Hop just saved me”, it’s now a dark, ironic statement, because hip-hop may just have ruined this emcee’s life. When fit into the album’s concept, which revolves around a hustler who gets seduced by “The Streets” and murdered by “The Game”, it’s not such a feel-good track after all.

For Lupe, hip-hop ain’t saving anything.

Lyrics to “Hip-Hop Saved My Life”
Listen to “Hip-Hop Saved My Life”

In defense of Juno

Posted in break it down, movies by Jef on January 3, 2008

A friend remarked yesterday that she hated Juno, the movie and the character, because it was pretentious and overly-precious. “Trying to be Napoleon Dynamite 2” was the phrase.

It got me thinking why I enjoyed the film as much as I did, because I dont disagree with those criticisms. More than that, I’m usually the first in line to hate on faux-quirk movies that have a hard-on for Wes Anderson. I hated Garden State. And, even though I thought it was hilarious, I found Napoloen Dynamite to be ultimately cold and uneccesarily mean towards its characters.

So why Juno? The character herself is at times grating, but, in the end, I think that’s the point — and it’s a point the film comes to quite skillfully. As my girlfriend pointed out, Juno’s arc moves from pretentious to sincere the same way Jason Bateman’s character moves the opposite: from super-cool to super-immature.

Anyone who likes this movie for the quirk is missing the point. As Jennifer Garner so succinctly states late in the film (and by this point, the film is on her side), “your T-shirt is stupid.” (Take that, ironic hipsters.) It’s a big line, delivered excellently, and it marks an important shift in tone for the film.

I think the best example of this progression and how it relates to Juno’s character development is the film’s soundtrack. The quaintly sung acoustic numbers feature silly, over-simplistic lyrics, and are somewhat emblematic of these quiet, quirky films and their weird, indie soundtracks.

But by the film’s end, the soundtrack becomes a rather sincere exchange between Juno and her new boyfriend. It’s moved from overly-precious to honest, REAL cuteness, and it’s now very much about REAL emotions, something Garden State and Napoleon Dynamite failed to achieve.

You could also look at wardrobe, Michael Cera’s tracksuit specifically. While at the beginning of the film the tight-fit high-riding gym shorts are Wes Anderson-ish flourishes of “uniform”, a way to make a character look ridiculous and be memorable (see: Pedro’s moustache; Natalie Portman’s helmet in Garden State), by the end of the film it’s simply a tracksuit. Michael Cera actually wins a race, just as Juno and him actually fall in love, and that’s pretty much it. It’s story now, not visual jokiness. In contrast, as stated, Bateman’s vintage rock t-shirts are now regarded as actually stupid.

Another great turning point is the sudden validation of Jennifer Garner’s character somewhere near the start of the third act. While in the beginning she’s a joke, the film’s horrible “normal” person, she is, by the end, the film’s heart. Her sincerity of feeling is what Juno strives for and is inspired by, and the grace with which this switch is accomplished is a testament to both Garner as an actress, and the film as a cohesive, successful project.

Feel free to debate, by leaving a comment, or by calling me on my hamburger phone.

"Stay away from my girl" – James Marsden

Posted in actors, comics, movies by Jef on January 1, 2008

James Marsden is my choice for breakout star of 2008.

The extended version of a love triangle scene from X1.

It was the summer of 2000 and my friends and I had just walked out of a screening of the new X-Men movie. We shared a laugh at a few of the cheesier moments, gave a thumbs up for effort, and proceeded to a coffee shop where we debated the cast. We liked Ian McKellar, even though he looked too old and scrawny. Hugh Jackman was surprisingly effective. James Marsden was… who was James Marsden again?

Even if the films had stuck to the comic, Cyclops would be a pretty shitty part to land. Sure, he’s the leader, but his best known character trait is being a repressed bore and he spends 99% of the time with a visor or stupid glasses on. Out of the staple characters, he is the longest-standing but with the least amount of fans, which is just sad.

Unfortunately for Marsden, the films didn’t stick to the format and succeeded in making Cyclops even shittier. Marsden spends the entirety of the second film in captivity, after going out like a punk to Lady Deathstrike (who later gets beat by Cyclops’s competition with the ladies, Wolverine). By the beginning of the third film, he was dead, indeed, undone by his own unwavering reliability and passionate monogamy.

Somewhere during X2 I began to feel bad for Marsden, especially because X2 was great. All the characters were busy enjoying the awesomeness, bouncing off walls and cracking their adamantium knuckles, while Marsden presumably sat around rehearsing for the Notebook.

The Notebook, which I saw twice in theatres (don’t ask), didn’t fare any better for Marsden, however. After Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams enjoy a young fling, she grows up and goes to college, leaving Gosling behind to mull around, grow a beard, fight a war. McAdams eventually falls for Lon Hammond (Marsden), a “handsome, smart, funny, sophisticated, charming” rich dude who treats his lady like gold, which the film regards as boring, instead of awesome.

Sometime before her actual wedding date, McAdams sees Gosling in a newspaper; he’s disheveled and sad and has restored the house they fell in love in, which the film regards as awesome, instead of creepy. She can’t let go of the past and so she lets go of the future — Marsden, again, is left to the sidelines, rehearsing his lines for X3. Which go something like “NoooooooooOOOooo!!!!!!”

A summary of Marsden’s role in The Notebook

Marsden’s meagre contributions to the third installment of X-Men are understandable and easily forgivable. He had bigger fish to fry; former Director-X Bryan Singer had cast him in his upcoming Superman Returns film, both Singer and Marsden leaving the mutants behind in the incompetent, ham-fisted hands of Brett Ratner.

Ratner’s sins against the X-Franchise are too many to list here, but the repercussions of Marsden’s ship jumping affected the story’s mythology in significant ways. 1) Cyclops was unable to participate in the Phoenix Story, of which he is vital part, and Phoenix subsequently spent much of the film wandering without an emotional hook (or coherent plot) to latch on to. 2) Wolverine’s previously minor flirtation with Jean was promoted to the apex position of the Cyclops/Jean/Wolvie love triangle, which proves really boring and makes the film’s Wolvie *hearts* Jean conclusion overblown and unfounded. 3) Cyclops is forever regarded as going out a like a punk.

Blogger Geoff Klock has written about how Marsden off-balanced Superman Returns. And Klock was right. Marsden plays Richard White, whom Lois Lane married after Superman flew off for years and left her to live a normal life. When Superman proverbially returns, however, she’s once again a comicbook heroine and Marsden’s upstanding qualities are now nonetheless pedestrian and not-good-enough. He flies a plane, but he doesn’t fly.

As Klock writes, Marsden upset Superman Returns because we the audience likes him too much. Marsden is too relatable, and his character becomes the audience’s surrogate, instead of Clark. This leaves Lois and Clark looking immature and cruel with their infidelity. Who would cheat on a stand-up guy like Richard White, who is just the right amount of insecure, confidant and understanding, and who puts the well-being of others before his own even though he’s not invulnerable? Next to a Superman who’s jealous and bulletproof and leaves the planet for years even though, as the film itself asserts, the earth needs him as saviour?

Marsden as Prince Charming (aka Prince Edward) in Enchanted was a logical, genius movement. Here, Marsden reminds that he has talent — not just looking pretty, but also being a serviceable funnyman and singer. It is his best performance yet (and yes, I’m saying that without irony), in a movie that is my sleeper choice of 2007. Amy Adams will get much of the credit and attention (not undeserved), but go back and watch it again or for the first time and see how much Marsden contributes.

Marsden’s Prince, of course, doesn’t get the girl. His Disney-Princess gets sucked into a Hollywood version of “modern” New York and learns that happy-ever-after isn’t an immediate absolute, but an ongoing process. i.e. She learns about relationships, however improbable, given that the romance she learns this from is equally as magical as her animated one with Marsden.

Prince Charming is an apt parallel to much of Marsden’s work. Idealized, outdated, and often little more than a plot device. But, like Prince Edward, Marsden proves that Prince Charming can be actually more interesting and entertaining than our instincts (and that of our filmmakers) tell us.

So far, filmmakers have used Marsden to prove that no, the perfect looking dude doesn’t always get the girl. We’re supposed to be comforted by that. But it’s an attempt that is constantly foiled by Marsden, whom, defying all superficial logic, is actually easier to relate to than his counterparts — Wolverine, Ryan Gosling in lumberjack chic, The Man of Steel, McDreamy.

And by constantly losing the girl, being at turns goofy, emotional, strong, measured, Marsden, despite looking like an underwear model, is cementing his place as the most relatable normal-guy working in genre films right now. Watch out, 2008. Marsden told you to stay away from his girl.