Reviews, Studio Ghibli

Studio Ghibli Countdown: ‘Porco Rosso’

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The story of an ace bounty hunter cursed with the head of a pig, Porco Rosso takes on the political unpredictability and depressive post-World War I atmosphere of Italy and the Adriatic Sea. Featuring thuggish bounty hunters, an era of sea-planes, arrogant aviators, and a young top-class engineer, Porco Rosso is an oft overlooked fantastical Miyazaki adventure in our own world.

Porco Rosso, or 紅の豚 Kurenai no Buta, was originally intended as a short in-flight film for Japan Airlines, based on Miyazaki’s own three-part watercolor manga, Hikōtei Jidai (“The Age of the Flying Boat”). Eventually released in 1992 as a full-length feature, Japan Airlines, as a major investor, showed it in-flight before theatrical release. As one of few Miyazaki films specifically set in the real world, Porco Rosso drew attention for its political bluntness, becoming a film considered personal to Miyazaki’s own views.

World War I aviation ace, Marco Pagott, is inexplicably turned into a pig-human hybrid after his comrades die in battle. Called Porco Rosso, literally Crimson Pig, he has become a freelance bounty hunter with an eye-catching cherry red sea-plane. His relationship with hotel – and restaurant – owner Madame Gina causes some trouble as egotistical American aviator Donald Curtis attempts to pursue her only to be refused. Their initial fight forces Porco Rosso to take his plane to his old friend Piccolo, who’s sons have all emigrated to better shores. Instead, a team of female engineers descends on Porco Rosso’s plane, led by Piccolo’s granddaughter, Fio, who soon dispels any doubts the pilot may have about female engineers. With her along for the ride, Porco Rosso battles sea pirates, a burgeoning union of bounty hunters, and the annoyingly persistent Donald Curtis.

Miyazaki is known for the imaginary worlds into which he thrusts his viewers, but Porco Rosso is one of his films set particularly in the real world. Here, the setting is post-war Italy, the Adriatic Sea, and the true effects that spread from the war. With a real setting comes real opinions about the world, delivering honest political opinions of the time, not unexpected in their presence but in their blunt delivery. Porco Rosso himself even states he’d rather be a “pig than a fascist.” The tone aims for a more complete post-war truth, beyond simply the glory of victory or the despair of defeat.

Porco Rosso focuses on the after-effects of war, not on the global scale or even for a country, but for individuals of a certain experience. The protagonist himself is a survivor of war, a survivor of a battle in which he watched his comrades die as he escaped and lived. His pig features become a symbol of the uglier, sometimes unrecognized, effects of war on the more human level. Although war is a common theme for Miyazaki, Porco Rosso highlights war veterans who returned transformed, plagued by guilt and trauma, both of which turned Porco Rosso into the cynical misogynistic man we meet.

Kickstarting Porco Rosso’s inner journey is his meeting with Piccolo and granddaughter Fio. Fio, like many of Miyazaki’s female characters, is strong, independent, and intelligent. Quickly smashing much of Porco Rosso’s sexist opinions about a female engineer, she heads up the repairs on his plane with the help of her all-female team of engineers; she becomes an integral part of his story and recovery. Also holding authority is Madame Gina. Owner of a hotel/restaurant, where she also performs as a singer, she enforces an unspoken rule of peace at all times, from all of her patrons, most of whom are pirates or bounty hunters themselves. These women are also survivors, finding their place in the world and standing their ground to defend it, something Porco Rosso comes to respect in both women.

Although many Studio Ghibli fans might cringe at the thought of a full-length sequel to any of the studio’s films, Miyazaki did make moves toward one for Porco Rosso in 2011. The film’s working title was Porco Rosso: The Last Sortie, intended to be set during the Spanish Civil War, with Porco returning as an aged pilot. However, as Studio Ghibli’s output remains restricted, the current status of the sequel is uncertain but likely pushed aside for newer projects.

Taking his theme of war to an individual level after official fighting has ceased, Miyazaki creates a story of perseverance and survival, across the water, remote islands, and through the boundless skies. Porco Rosso shows us an under-recognized time in our global history through a new unique lens, sliding us into a new kind of war story, and, under the ever-powerful spell of Miyazaki’s mysticism, we even accept Porco Rosso’s pig-head without need for explanation.

What do you think of Porco Rosso?

Edited by: Hannah Wilkes

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About Kajsa Rain Forden

Kajsa is a writer from foggy San Francisco, living in sunny LA. She spends most of her time writing, binge-watching animated movies, and working in web design. With a soft spot for stop-motion, her favorite films are Coraline, Castle In The Sky, and The Thief and the Cobbler (Recobbled). You can find her on Twitter, or Pinterest, and most other social media @TheKajsaRain, or at Disneyland.