Harry Suharyadi: A Different Take
The Jakarta Post -- WEEKENDER | Thu, 11/20/2008 4:19 PM |
An overambitious love story or a fresh take on human conflict? Either way, recent release Cinta Setaman establishes filmmaker Harry “Dagoe” Suharyadi as an idealistic young director who believes a great cinematic experience lies in the soul, not in technique. He sits down with Maggie Tiojakin to discuss love, life and how art imitates both.
Harry “Dagoe” Suharyadi shows up at an outdoor café in jeans, white sneakers and a black sports jacket. He takes off his jacket and orders a latte. A smile appears on his elliptical face as the sun shines down on us relentlessly.
“Thank you for coming to the film’s premiere the other day,” he says. “I’m sorry, I was so busy running around I didn’t have time to say hello.”
This is typical Harry: polite, friendly and with an air of genius that is at once intimidating and comforting. Intimidating, because behind his easygoing attitude there’s a touch of serious observation; and comforting, because this young filmmaker displays the knowledge and passion of a veteran constantly on the lookout for something new and surprising.
At 38, Harry has made two other films that earned him a reputation as an up-and-coming director with an unusual penchant for storytelling. His first feature film, Pachinko and Everyone’s Happy (1999), became a sensation at the Jakarta International Film Festival in 2000, drawing more viewers there than any other local film. Even at the beginning of his career, Harry felt the need to stand out in the filmmaker crowd, avoiding mainstream topics that portray love as something innocent and fragile.
“I don’t want a Romeo–Juliet love story where everyone is in love and sweet with each other, because that doesn’t happen in real life. I want a love story that people can relate to,” he says.
Pachinko opened nationwide following its premiere at JIFFEST to some critical acclaim and an almost euphoric reaction from fans who found it eccentric, unique and refreshing. Shot entirely in Japan, with a Japanese cast and crew whom he had hired on an apprenticeship basis, the film examines the humanity of love, lust and family. Harry does not shy away from the issue of sexuality, but neither does he find cause to celebrate it the way erotic films do. For him, sex – like everything else – is merely one part of life. Nevertheless, some viewers instantly peg him as a filmmaker specializing in eroticism.
“After the movie came out, I was approached by different producers who wanted me to do typical erotic movies. They call [Pachinko] the first Indonesian blue film. And I was, like, what?!” He shakes his head. “How did that happen? Didn’t they watch the film?”
Naturally, he declined the offers. A couple of years later, in 2002, he emerged with Ariel dan Raja Langit, a children’s movie about a boy named Ariel and his friend, Galang, who must save the world by battling an evil lord. The movie garnered moderate commercial success, but it was his next project that would win him his highest recognition in the industry. In 2004, Harry – still stuck on the idea of creating a quality vehicle for kids – made Jenderal Kancil, a TV series that was partially inspired by Antoine de Saint Exupéry’s The Little Prince.
“When I told the network producers what I had in mind, they were adamant that it couldn’t sell,” Harry says. “But I convinced them: yes it could. And it did.”
Jenderal Kancil ran for two years, enjoying plaudits from critics as a ground-breaking series and winning several prestigious awards at national events. Harry was pleased, but he was itching to reconnect with his adult audiences and began to explore the idea of Cinta Setaman.
“I wanted to tell an unconventional story,” he says. “As a filmmaker, I have always been attracted to the little things that make life what it is.”
Featuring a much ballyhooed all-star ensemble (Nicholas Saputra, Jajang C. Noer, Slamet Rahardjo, Lukman Sardi, Inul, Surya Saputra, among others), Cinta Setaman consists of eight vignettes united by the common thread called love – not romance. According to Harry, love is deeper than romance, with enough room to spare for passing strangers. Love goes a long way, while romance has a tendency to limit itself. He admits that trying to pull off a film with multiple plots was rather a bold step, but he adds he is not the kind of person who pays attention to form.
“What matters for me is that a movie can get its message across, and people are able to reflect what they see on screen into their own personal lives,” he says. “A work of art is a continuously evolving subject, so I think it’s normal for artists to try different ways of expressing themselves.”
An alumnus of the Arts Institute of Jakarta (IKJ), Harry, whose nickname “Dagoe” (pronounced: da-goo) is an affectionate tribute from friends for his “uniquely shaped chin”, grew up in Jakarta, along with six of his brothers and sisters. Not unlike other filmmakers, his love for the movies began in childhood, and even then he was already very particular about the way a film should be appreciated.
“I never miss the opening scene or the ending,” he says. “Both are the heart of the story. The middle part of a film may survive a cut here and there, but the opening and closing sequences are the most integral parts of the entire run.”
Harry wrote the screenplays for all of his three full-length films (Pachinko was done in Japanese). It’s clear, from the Japanese themes in Pachinko and Cinta Setaman, that he has a love for that country, where he lived for a while.
“In 1997, I was invited by Japan’s culture ministry … to spend nine months in their country doing pretty much whatever I wanted to do.”
The invitation came after his short film, Happy Ending, won the award for Outstanding Short Film at the 1st Pusan International Film Festival in South Korea in 1996.
“I learned to speak basic Japanese and visited Nihon Daigaku [Nihon University] where, by chance, I met with Tadao Sato, a prominent film critic in Japan,” he says. “I had already finished writing Pachinko, but was short on budget. When I told him of my dilemma, he gave me a typical Japanese response: ‘So work harder!’” He laughs. “True enough, it got me going.”
While staying in Japan, Harry experienced an awakening of passion for his art. Never before had he come across a culture that appreciates artistic pursuits as much as it appreciates life, and he was near tears when he participated in an autumn festival attended by hundreds of people who had all come to pay their respects to the life and work of Yasujiro Ozu.
“You know Ozu, right?” he asks. Ozu was a Japanese filmmaker from the 1920s to the 1950s who was known for his innovative filming techniques and family-oriented movie themes.
“Anyway, the event was set in a park,” he remembers. “And there was music, food, all the works. People were talking about Ozu, marveling at his genius, his influential works as if they had all known him in person Then, we got to see his film on a huge screen.” He sighs. “I felt … this warm emotion building up inside me: I realized I was in the presence of beauty.”
Beauty is the central preoccupation of Harry’s life, as his latest film suggests in each frame of shot and the unraveling of characters. Yes, some may fault his work as overambitious – as the work of young and talented directors often is – but a second look reveals the man behind the camera, the man whose nights are spent painstakingly putting down one line of dialogue after another, the man who says: “Life is beautiful, and that’s what I want to deliver through my art.”