Director: Hayao Miyazaki
Starring: Shūichirō Moriyama, Akio Ōtsuka, Akemi Okamura
Review Author: Tony
Synopsis: Marco, a former WW1 Italian Airforce pilot, spends his days as a bounty hunter tracking and shooting down the various sky pirates hassling vessels in the Adriatic Sea. Known in the area as Porco Rosso, Marco is afflicted by a curse that has changed him into an anthropomorphic pig. Considered a nuisance by the numerous sky pirate clans of the region, they contract the services of the accomplished, but cocky American pilot Donald Curtis to put an end to Marco’s flying days once and for all.
Continuing on with our goal of reviewing at least 1 Hayao Miyazaki film each month of this year, this month’s selection is Porco Rosso. Released in 1992, the film is set within the scenic backdrop of the Adriatic sea years after WW1, one of the few times Miyazaki has used a previous time period and geographically accurate setting to clearly mirror our own world and history. As much as we see Miyazaki’s passionate viewpoints and love of fantasy and wonder in his films, Porco Rosso feels like the most personal I’ve seen yet; one that touches on the inner turmoil of post-war trauma (Miyazaki saw firsthand the effects of WW2 on his county of Japan) and also highlights his enthusiasm for early aviation and 50s serial adventure stories.
The Italian/Adriatic setting doubles up as a gorgeous backdrop full of lush landscapes, beautiful cliffs, and ocean scenery; but the time setting for this region has a melancholic underlayer. Set in 1930, Italy is ruled by the ruthless Fascist party seeking to rid the local regions of any they consider vagrants or undesirables, including Porco. Much of Italy has been struck hard by The Great Depression, leaving the denizens poor and opportunistic. Marco himself appears afflicted by his experience in The Great War, choosing to isolate himself and only venture from his solace to risk his life in dangerous dogfights; His Quip “A pigs gotta fly” to one of his few remaining companions is more a confession of hopelessness than bravado, choosing to see the end of his days in a cockpit than grow old in the company of friends.
Porco/Marco’s swine like appearance lends to one of the film’s bigger mysteries. It’s mentioned he’s cursed, but the details of the when and how remain vague. This piglike visage appears a more physical reflection of Marco’s lesser traits, such as his literal pigheadedness, sexist view of women, and roguish attitude. Another theory is Marco’s appearance reflects how he sees himself, unworthy of love or affection of others. Calling Marco selfish would be incorrect considering he shows multiple examples of bravery and selflessness, but it’s also at the cost of his own personal safety, which doesn’t consider the feelings of those who care for him. In the few moments where Porco opens up and reveals his past, which still haunts him, his true face is briefly revealed. The facade dissipates in these moments of honesty and vulnerability.
Aside from PTSD, fascist regimes, dogfighting, and a deep human introspection, Porco Rosso remains a delightful children’s film with a light tone that paves over the darker and more adult themes of the film with beautiful animation and exciting action sequences. Even in moments of life and death, Miyazaki cuts the tension with comedy and slapstick. The pirates are more goofy than dangerous, rival pilot Curtis comes across as pompous and misguided rather than bloodthirsty, even the tragic battle that haunts Porco is capped off with a beautiful sequence of the dead flying in their own airspace above the clouds. Perhaps the only real antagonist is the Italian Fascist Party looking to arrest Porco, and those associated with him (Miyazaki has stated his staunch opposition to fascism throughout his life)
The sheer beauty and variety of scenery displayed by Miyazaki and his animation team at Studio Ghibli perfectly encapsulates the visual beauty and variety of the Adriatic region. While Italy may be the primary focus of the film, it also brought the coasts of Greece and Croatia to life with an animated panache. And yet, while the sheer environment and surroundings are enough to capture the wandering eye, It’s the attention to detail on the aircraft that draws all attention. I’ve praised the fluidity and motion of previous Miyazaki film’s to length so far, but Porco Rosso sports an impressive immersive, in the driver seat kind of experience when it comes to its dogfights that I saw it on par with live action contemporaries such as Tora! Tora! Tora! and even as recent as Dunkirk.
Porco Rosso might be thin on story and somewhat missing the fantasy and magic of previous Miyazaki films, it’s also the first of his films to leave me feeling indifferent to the narrative and a little underwhelmed. The next day though, I couldn’t get the film out of my head and the themes of anguish and stubbornness to hide our genuine feeling began to resonate closely. Perhaps not one of Miyazaki’s talked about classics, Porco Rosso is a film rich in self-reflection, stellar animation, and a wondrous Mediterranean inspired soundtrack from Joe Hisaishi.
Shots of Sake