Written & Directed by Hayao Miyazaki
The wonder of the world of Studio Ghibli and Hayao Miyazaki is that you can make a film about a man who has turned into a pig who fights pirates over 1930s Italy and never have to explain yourself. In all honesty, Ghibli and Miyazaki have some kooky ideas, but immersion into their style and genuine storytelling has allowed me to see past what outsiders may see as strange plots and stories and value their work for what it is, which is brilliant. My first Ghibli/Miyazaki experience was Spirited Away, a film still to come in this marathon, and I was at first very turned off by the unique, strange style of the film. I am very much looking forward to revisiting Spirited Away, but I think it is important to note that these films, while endlessly imaginative and brilliant, may take some getting used to upon initial entry into the world of Studio Ghibli. But once you permit yourself passage, the journey is magical.
We never really get an explanation as to how Porco Rosso, or Marco, has become a pigman, but the mystery is the beauty of it. As a famed pirate bounty hunter in the Adriatic Sea, Porco flies his unique red plane, winning the disdain of the pirate gangs. Annoyed by his constant harassment, the gangs hire an American ace, Curtis, to end the bounty hunting of Porco Rosso once and for all. Porco is shot down during their first dogfight, but he steals away to Milan, where he is a wanted man, to see his longtime mechanic, Piccolo, to repair his plane. However, Porco Rosso must trust his famed plane in the hands of a young woman named Fio, the granddaughter of Piccolo and the only engineer available. The two build a new plane just in time to evade the Italian secret police and fly back to face Curtis once more.
I think what makes Porco Rosso, and many of the other films thus far in this marathon, so impressive is how easily the story could be translated to a live action film. Sure, the main character is a pigman, but if you make him some scarred man living a lonely solitude in the Adriatic, the film could be a live action smash. That is to say, these films’ strength come from the groundedness of their narratives. As fantastical as they are, the root is human. Nausicaa, Castle in the Sky, Kiki’s Delivery Service may make reaches, to say the least, from the natural world as we know it, but the characters themselves are real, and what make the story tick, and excel. Porco Rosso is no different and quite honestly, I think such a live action adaptation might be a fun adventure, because that is exactly what Miyazaki’s version is, a great, fun adventure. With some good comedic relief as well.
Heck, there is even a long pined upon romance aspect to the film to add another ingredient to the pot. But what drew me into the film were the characters of Porco Rosso and Fio, and their tenuous relationship between pilot and engineer. Fio continues the Ghibli tradition of strong, role model women, and plays the part perfectly, exhibiting wisdom after ambition, and a daring sense of adventure. Rosso is the vet, and the main character, front and center on the screen, and in the title, but I might wager that this film is more truly about the development of Fio, and Porco Rosso’s passing of the reigns to a new generation of adventurer. It is one last hurrah for Porco before flying off into the sunset.
It is hard to quantify my enjoyment of Porco Rosso, especially as it pertains to the other films already viewed for my Studio Ghibli marathon. It always seems natural to “rank” films in a marathon, and I’m sure I will do the same at the conclusion of this one, but for now I think I would much rather sit back and reflect on enjoying this singular film for as much as it was. I think its main charm for me was the oddball comedy that came in droves. And by oddball I simply mean that the timing of the comedy seemed haphazard, but in such a way that it worked even more than would have been in a more structured setting. Porco Rosso is an interesting character, mysterious as he is. And Miyazaki has the wonder of flying down pat. Certainly a worthy entry in the canon.