Miyazaki Showcase: Porco Rosso

July 12, 2004 on 1:19 pm | In Porco Rosso | 1 Comment

In Porco Rosso, Miyazaki created his finest work and a film that resides among my personal favourites. Never before has one of his films been so well animated, so emotional, so beautifully designed, so atmospheric. A true triumph of the form, etcetera!

Said to be an inflight movie that grew into a full fledged feature, Porco Rosso tells the story of a man who left the Italian army after losing his faith in humanity and becoming a pig. In 1929, he makes his living as a bounty hunter on the Adriatic Sea, forever chasing after air pirates. Most have forgotten his real name, and have come to know him as Porco Rosso: The Crimson Pig.
Unfortunately, the bounty hunting business is dying and Porco is wanted by the fascists. He just wants to make a clean break and live a life alone, but an American named Curtis has been hired by the pirates and wants the glory …

This is a stunning film. There’s something about it that makes it rise above Miyazaki’s already superlative films, something that’s hard to pinpoint. Porco himself is a great character, Moriyama Shuuichirou providing a gutteral voice that distinguishes him from his human contemporaries. He refuses to acknowledge that he used to be a man; there is only one picture and he has taken to it with a pen. Pigs are clean animals, he reasons; humanity is filthy. Not surprisingly, he can be seen as misanthropic, but he secretly thinks that there is still hope. For this reason, people sometimes see him in a different light …
The other characters are similarly well realised; Gina is the owner of the Hotel Adriano, who has seen three of the men she loved die. She doesn’t want Marco (as she is the only one who ever calls him by his name) to be the fourth, even if he is technically a pig. Her scenes alone in the garden are some of the best. She’s a strong willed, caring woman, and it’s no wonder that she has all of the pilots of the Adriatic, bounty hunters and air pirates alike, in her thrall.
The other “woman” in Porco’s life is the 17 year old Fio, the girl who redesigns his plane after Curtis shoots it down. She has been given the opportunity to work because all of the men in her family have left Milan due to the depression; Porco is horrified to see that his plane is entirely remodelled by an army of women, and the all important trio of old women.
No one is truly bad, not even the air pirates. They have their own code of honour, their own hilarious ethics and give the feeling that they might just go on to become “legitimate businessmen”.
Perhaps the most optimistic of Miyazaki’s films, Porco truly shows the audience that no one is beyond redemption. No one.

Porco Rosso is not a journey or a quest; it’s a film about the end of an era, when independent pilots are having their last hurrahs. The film is by no means painted with the brush of nostalgia, but it’s still loving testimony to an age long gone. The intrusion of fascism is simply too political for these ultimately good natured characters. They may live lawless existences, but each one of them knows exactly what is right. The feeling of the piece is very important; the characters don’t allow the fascists to oppress them. They live ingeniously in the only way that they can.
There are events that never seem contrived, and the whole thing comes together as a work of beauty.

The Adriatic is the most wondrous setting that Miyazaki has ever devised (admittedly not a place of his own creation); it feels real, and the cels and backgrounds co-exist beautifully. The planes are always cels, and can jump into action at any time. So much love went into this, suggested to be the most personal of all Miyazaki’s films and the most captive of his love of flight. There’s even an example of unprecedented self promotion: Porco’s plane is powered by a Ghibli engine. For the first time, the characters are actually attractive. Gina is genuinely glamorous, and Porco is naturally interesting to look at. To see him in human form as he tells the story of his origins is actually weird; he inhabits the body of a pig as more than the simply cosmetic.
Hisaishi Joe’s music is a great collection of adriatic and flying sounding pieces, and there’s even a perfectly delivered French song in there.

Porco Rosso is as near perfection as any film could ever possibly hope to be; anime doesn’t come much better than this. Just by thinking about it, one can bring tears to their eyes. Not to be missed. Ever.

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