Porco Rosso

Porco Rosso

PR3“Initially, it was supposed to be a 45-minute film for tired businessmen to watch on long airplane flights… Why kids love it is a mystery to me.” – Hayao Miyazaki

Set in the 1930s, Porco Rosso is a famous fighter pilot who was turned into a pig by a mysterious spell. Known to his fellow Italians as the Crimson Pig, Porco is now a freelance bounty hunter, until an American pilot arrives on the scene determined to take Porco down out of the sky for the renown he would receive. Alongside young mechanic Fio, Porco prepares himself (and his battered plane) for a big showdown in the sky.

Porco Rosso has established itself as one of Miyazaki’s oddest works (and anyone who’s seen their fair share of Ghibli know that this is no mean feat). It stays very true to its initial concept – but that’s why it’s odd.

You wouldn’t expect a film with such a strange synopsis to be so spirited and playful. There is a big story behind Porco Rosso, namely “why has he been turned into a pig  and why is no one shocked by it?”, but this is something that is looked over to start with. Instead, the focus is on more current matters such as Porco fighting sky pirates and his dealings with American pilot Donald Curtis – as if he didn’t even have the face of a pig.

PR4Despite its links to war and fighting, there is a certain whimsical essence that gives this film its charm. This is most noticeable when it’s focusing on airplanes and flying. Those that have seen other Miyazaki films will know that many of his films feature flying elements, but it is only in Porco Rosso that flying has a practical, mechanical approach. In a particularly memorable scene where the Crimson Pig’s signature plane is being repaired by the extended family of the mechanic Piccolo (all very capable women as the men are at war), we can see the diagrams and designs, the carpentry and the sheer legwork that goes into building something of this magnitude. Despite knowing what Porco is going to use his plane for once it has been repaired, there is still that sense of togetherness and fun.

PR5Though Porco Rosso follows similar Ghibli works in its character design, clean-cut language and limited violence, it contains certain elements that let it stand alone as a successful story. This historical context is a lot richer here, with the setting being the Mediterranean post World War One. This includes mentions of fascist movements in Europe (as Porco himself quips: “I’d rather be a pig than a fascist”) and Casablanca-esque romantic hints in the storyline. Miyazaki often takes open skylines as a chance to show the viewer some fantastic vistas and those wide-framed sunsets. Even with scenes set in Gina’s cafe or out in the private gardens the detail and colour is impressive.

Porco himself has that hard-boiled air of a jaded but talented hero, which is a far cry from Ghibli’s usual trend of having young protagonists. By a considerable margin, he is by far the oldest protagonist I have seen so far (cursed Sophie from Howl’s Moving Castle notwithstanding). He is very much a middle-aged typical man of the time: drinking, smoking, gruff, with an eye for the ladies. “All middle-aged men are pigs,” he quickly responds to one woman, who criticises his lifestyle.

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Porco Rosso is a great story with very realistic personalities. There are some fantastic one-liners here to appeal to older viewers, it doesn’t take itself too seriously and it embraces the concepts of fun and adventure. Like most Ghibli films, there is an innate source of magic here, both on and off the screen.