Porco Rosso (Japan, 1992)March 29, 2019
Porco Rosso is an
outlier in the early canon of master Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki – too
dark and ambiguous for young children and too uneven for older viewers.
Although superior to all but the best American-made animated motion pictures of
the era (that “era” being the early 1990s, when the Disney revival was
starting), Porco Rosso falls into the
category of “lesser Miyazaki” and isn’t the equal of his beloved early films or
his deeper, more thoughtful later ones. In recent years, the director has
acknowledged that the film went a little off the tracks after being influenced
by the real-world events of Yugoslavia’s civil war (the original screenplay used
Croatia, not Italy, as the setting).
Unlike some of Miyazaki’s films, Porco Rosso transpires in a real-world analog rather than an
“alternate universe.” The time period is the 1930s. The title character is a
man with a pig’s face who went by the name of “Marco Pagot” when he was a World
War I flying ace, before a curse transformed him. Now, he makes his living as a
bounty hunter, flying his red sea plane over the Adriatic Sea and capturing
pirates. For R&R, he stops by the Hotel Adriana, which is run by the
beautiful-but-aloof Gina, who is always warm to Rosso because she carries a
torch for him. Meanwhile, the pirates, needing a “score,” hire a hotshot
American ace and would-be Hollywood movie star, Donald Curtis, to lead them. He
develops a grudge for Rosso and shoots him down.
With his plane badly damaged, Rosso travels to Turin, where
his mechanic Piccolo lives. Piccolo’s granddaughter, Fio, takes responsibility
for the extensive repairs and, when Rosso is ready to leaves, she accompanies
him. They are captured by pirates but Fio’s charm and fast-talking save Rosso
from death and the plane from destruction. Then Curtis arrives and a challenge
is issued: if Rosso can win a dogfight, Curtis will pay off all his debts; if
Curtis wins, Fio will marry him.
The level of violence is considerably elevated in Porco Rosso over Miyazaki’s previous
efforts, My Neighbor Totoro and Kiki’s Delivery Service. The boxing
match between Rosso and Curtis, which concludes their overlong air duel after
both guns jam, is especially brutal. However, although there are dark aspects
to the storyline (many reflecting the rise of fascism in Europe during the
Great Depression), the overall tone remains light, with Rosso displaying a
sardonic wit and Fio representing his perfect foil. The risk she takes for
Rosso and the belief she shows in his flying abilities bespeak her affection
for him. Parts of the story reflect themes and ideas about air travel that
Miyazaki would return to more than two decades later for his 2013 film, The Wind Rises.
Although the story may not be top-notch Miyazaki, there’s
plenty of eye candy. The action scenes, of which there are several, are lively
and will keep children engaged. The animation is on par with the previous
Studio Ghibli releases. The pirates all have exaggerated, semi-comedic
appearances while the women (Gina and Fio) are presented as elegant and Westernized.
Rosso’s piggish look is evident primarily because of the snout. Other than
that, he is drawn a lot like the pirates. Curtis is an amalgamation of two
real-life Hollywood personalities: Errol Flynn and Ronald Reagan. (Like Reagan,
Curtis imagines one day becoming President.)