Porco Rosso is a movie I hold very dear; to the point where I considered it my second favorite of all Miyazaki’s of works. This film is beyond enjoyable, and has some truly fantastic concepts and elements within it. Although it has many of the wonderful features that are found in other Ghilbi films, Porco Rosso has some very interesting aspects of its own that set it apart and make it interesting to look at from a reviewers stand point (which is why I am including it in my month of Miyazaki). Despite not being the most personable of Miyazaki’s film I can say that in my opinion this is definitely is his most exciting work, while being a truly a beautiful and sophisticated work as well. Like Cagliostro while it isn’t Miyazaki’s deepest work (though it is still has much more complex characters then Cagliostro), it remains one of the most incredible works of film I have ever seen.
Porco Rosso has animation that often does things that I can hardly believe is possible. It has an amazing sense of motion within both the cast and the planes, but also takes the time to allow for pacing much like a book would by giving the viewer breathing room. Unlike a lesser director, Miyazaki clearly knows how and more importantly where to be still, frantic, or action packed. This film clearly continues to show Miyazaki’s great love of the airplane and flight animation, something found both in his previous works such as Castle in the Sky, as well as in his later works such as upcoming film The Wind Rises. His animation both of the workings of the airplane, as well the prospective of flight is the truly amazing element. One scene that really stood out for me is when the hero Porco is flying over the ocean as the sun reflects gently on the water. This level of detail really blew me away and made me realize just how much detail and reflection went into the animation. The animation of Porco Rosso is incredible, and still remains a great example of what is possible through animation to this day.
Like many Miyazaki films Porco Rosso has a fantastic score by Joe Hashi, who is the most famous, common, and arguably skilled composer that Miyazaki has chosen to worked with. What makes this score so interesting is how often I feel that this score is neglected among Hashi’s scores, which is a real shame providing how great it is. The music within Porco Rosso’s is not only outstanding, but also plays a key role in influencing the film’s plot and setting. The score really helps to reflect the setting of pre-World War Two waters near Italy. It also plays a major role directly within the film with one of the themes being sung in French by Porco’s love interest Gena. Many of the musical cues within Porco Rosso give a real emphasis to the mood of the film, and without them the movie just wouldn’t be the same. Though the score doesn’t stand out in the same way as it does in other Hashi scores such as Castle in the Sky or Princess Mononoke it is equally important to the films overall aesthetic.
Porco Rosso was clearly modeled on foreign films and has dialogue that reflects this. The scripting of the interchange is really clever within Porco Rosso, presenting both an homage to films such as The Grand Illusion, while also adding in plenty of goofy comedy. While the dub sometimes takes a few liberties and overall perhaps is not as quite good in terms in quality as the subtitled version, it has some unique actors that do a great job at portraying the leads Fiona, Curtis, Jeana, and Porco. In fact I would consider this the best of the Disney dubs (though the best of Miyazaki dubs belongs to Terry Gillian’s dub in Mirimax’s Princess Mononoke). I’d actually recommend seeing this movie dubbed (though the sub version also great), for this reason unless you are really adverse to dubs. This movie really has a wonderful script, and unusually great dub despite a few liberties being taken with the text.
The story of Porco Rosso is that of ex-World War One ace with the head of the pig nicknamed Porco, who now works as a sea plane bounty hunter hired to protect ships from a comedic incompetent group pirates. He spends most of his time alone either on a deserted Island hunting the pirates for profit, or trying avoid the local restaurant owner Gina at her cafe. Times are quickly getting more difficult for Porco; however as the desperate pirates hire the womanizing American race pilot Donald Cirtus to hunt him down. His problems are also compounded by the new fascist government who is also now hunting for him, since he deserted the Italian air force in the past.
Lots of elements of Porco Rosso are common within other Miyazaki films including sky pirates, flying machines, an anti-war message, goofy family friendly humor, and a strong female cast. Like all Ghibli films, however Porco Rosso is unique in its own way, and has a strong sense of originality despite these many familiar aspects. One of element that really stands out is that this is one of Miyazaki’s least fantasy based films, with only Porco’s origin and character really containing any supernatural aspects. His appearance as a pig (as well as an allusion to Miyazaki makes to himself) is made to be more of symbolic element of his emotional struggle and personality, then a result of magic. While some of the aspects of this film are very similar to other Miyazaki’s works, this work is definitely not like a repeat of ideas.
One of things I love the most about this film is its ability to switch between and balance out the serious and comedic aspects into the setting. This allows the film to be convincing and mature, while adding in a sense of humor that is family friendly but doesn’t talk down to audience either. This balance gives the film a kind of enchanting quality and mood to it, despite the lack of magic within the setting and make Porco’s curse more powerful as a plot device as a result. This balance is really one of the key ingredients to the film’s success, and to what sets it apart from other Miyazaki films.
One thing I really admire about this film is that it has an amazing ending and opening that leaves the viewer wanting more, in a good sort of way. Porco Rosso makes a great use of an epilogue, but still left me really wanting to hear more about Porco, Gena and Fio’s exploits. This sort of ending reminded me a lot of the ending original Fullmetal Alchemist tv series, which gives a sense of real sense of conclusion, but also room for the imagination of the viewer. The opening likewise starts out with setting and slowly builds into a crescendo of action as Porco battle to incompetent Mamma Aruta Gang, and saves the day pushing the plot into motion and creates a sense of background for the stories setting and mixture of action, romance and comedy.
No Miyazaki film is complete without a fantastic cast of characters. Porco Rosso cast has a real heart to it. While the characters might not seem to have complex characterization they are instantly relatable and likable, while retaining complex human quality to them. I like the fact that Porco is a character with such simple motivation, design and attitude, but develops overtime and in these simple aspects shows remarkable depth. Unlike most anti-heroes he really is not just relatable, but is truly lovable in his obstinacy, pigheadedness and flaws. Despite his gruff and stubborn nature he is truly trying to find himself and grow as a person, rather than just trying to do the right thing and to survive. This makes his ultimate and unexpected resolution all the more poignant.
The American race pilot Curtis is a silly and very obviously flat antagonist. What really makes him so convincing and interesting as character is the humor surrounding his inflated ego. He is constantly womanizing and bragging about his appearance, film career and skills as a pilot while trying to appear as classy. What is most remarkable about many Miyazaki films including this one is his use of strong and fascinating female characters.
Both Gina and Fio are given an incredible amount of depth, and don’t play into the typical stereotypes given to female characters. While Gina has a smaller screen time then some of the other lead characters, she has incredible presence and a complex and sophisticated relationship with Porco. She is far from the typical damsel in distress, and often is the one saving Porco from trouble. While she waits expectantly in hoping to emotionally connect with Porco, she clearly has a complex set of reasons for doing so that goes way back and is shown to be highly independent. Despite clearly being in love with Porco and being loyal to him, she isn’t the sort of woman who waits for him to reciprocate the feelings to move on with her life. Fio is likewise a highly intelligent and independent character, which despite Porco’s initial reservation proves to be a valuable ally. She is a plane engineer who not only helps with Porco’s plane and proves herself an expert engineer, but who also helps save Porco’s life.
The only real minor characters of the film besides Fio’s eccentric Italian grandfather and Porco’s old buddy in the air force are the pirate gangs, especially the Mamma Aruta Gang. These characters are very similar to Dola and her pirate in gang Castle in the sky, only even more comedic and over the top. They are constantly foiled by Porco, and comically stubborn, cowardly and inept. Even when they are planning an attack or kidnapping hostages they aren’t really presented as threatening. If any movie really knows a fun way of portraying pirates it is Porco Rosso. The characters in Porco Rosso are some of my favorite characters in any film, and are completely engaging.
Porco Rosso is a masterpiece, even among Miyazaki’s other films. It is hard to really find any fault at all with it. It is wonderful tool for introducing someone who is not familiar with Japanese animation to it, because it is such an imaginative and well-crafted work, its family friendly without looking down on its viewers or simplifying, and avoids many of the usual tropes associated with anime. While this movie like Castle of Cagliostro has a very straight forward story, it has a depth of characterization that Cagliostro lacks. Whether you are new to viewing anime or very experienced with the works of Miyazaki this is a wonderful film to see.