Porco Rosso

Porco Rosso

PORCO ROSSO

Watched via DVD

WHITNEY

CRYSTAL

PLOT: Porco Rosso is a Studio Ghibli movie about a veteran fighter pilot, now working as a freelance bounty hunter, to stop and capture air pirates. I have to be honest, I’ve seen this film on several occasions, and I still find the character and plot involvement to be a trifle confusing. This may just be me, but I felt that the plot tried to do too much for the short amount of time it was given. There was also a lot of backstory that was hinted at, that wasn’t fully resolved in any way. Characters who initially seemed to be working independently, suddenly all came together in a giant mass in the end.

So the story begins by introducing Porco Rosso as a hero, by showing him saving a bunch of little girls from pirates. From there on out he ends up coming head to head with an American, who I guess is in league with the pirates. This American ends up having the hots for a singer, who in turn has a thing for Porco Rosso. In true manly fashion, they end up trying to show one another up, and Porco Rosso’s airplane gets damaged.

The rest of the story revolves around Porco Rosso fixing up his plane and agreeing to a fight/competition. The rest of the cast ends up showing up to make bets on the fight, and everything ends on a bit of an awkward note with a fist fight and some deus ex machina in hand.

I’ve never found the plot of this movie that confusing. Yes, there’s some backstory that needs to be pieced together, but it’s not near as confusing as Nausicaä or something. It’s a fairly straightforward story about two men fighting it out to show who’s the better man.

PLOT: Porco Rosso is a movie about grumpy, middle-aged men who think life has nothing new to offer them. This takes the form of the main character, a bounty hunter and great pilot, having the face of a pig. There’s a lot more to this film than the pig-faced main character, though, so don’t let that scare you away from it.

Between World Wars I and II, in the Adriatic Sea (to the east of Italy), there apparently existed something of a paradise for smugglers and bounty hunters. They flew their planes around and had their run of interesting places to visit, with little government interference. When the Fascists take over Italy, they begin to hire up seaplane pilots, spelling an end to this pilot’s paradise in the Adriatic. Given Hayao Miyazaki’s love of aircraft and flying, Porco Rosso’s as much a love letter to this fleeting time as it is about being middle-aged, and the film works surprisingly well for it.

Essentially, this film’s about a pig-faced pilot, called Porco, who gets on the bad side of a pirate gang and agrees to a dogfight against a pilot of their choosing. The pirate gang chooses the American-born pilot Curtis, and most of the film consists of Porco and Curtis either sizing each other up before the dogfight or Porco prepping his plane. The plane-prep portions are my favorite, as Porco spends time with his mechanic, where the viewer gets an idea of how the wars have affected the economies of Italy. Porco also gains a companion there, in the form of his mechanic’s teenaged granddaughter, Fio. Fio’s a nice complement to the other woman who knows about Porco, the beautiful singer Gina.

It sounds like there’s a lot going on in this film, but it all works together seamlessly to tell a complete narrative. No individual part sticks out, and altogether the movie provides a look at themes of aging, regret, and war.

I’m going to have to disagree with you. There are some major holes in the story. Maybe they don’t have to be completely filled in, but there are a lot of hazy moments where you just have to go with the flow of the show.

SETTING: Again, this may just be me, but I don’t quite get the setting for Porco Rosso. Sure I get that the movie takes place shortly after World War I, and I get that the cast of characters live near and in Italy, but I don’t really understand everyone’s involvement as far as politics go. I’m not an expert on history or politics, so I have a hard time bringing my own prior knowledge to the story. Watching this movie left me wondering why certain factions didn’t get along, and why everyone sided the way they do. I feel there are a lot of subtleties that are going to be hard to pick up on, especially for younger audiences. I mean, this is supposed to be a family movie right?

As Crystal points out, there are a lot of interesting locations that are utilized to explore characters through their chosen establishments. There is Gina and her bar, and Porco Rosso’s mechanic’s shop. Every person chooses to embrace post war life in vastly different ways. Each location has its own little backstory and development that makes it feel believable and well realized.

Part of your difficulty may stem from labeling this movie as a “family movie.” I mean, it’s by Studio Ghibli, but the main character’s a middle-aged man, so it’s not going to have an immediate appeal to non-adults. Plus, all of the main story elements will appeal more to adults than naïve children.

SETTING: Considering that Porco Rosso is set in the Adriatic, a place most viewers will be unfamiliar with, this film does a great job of establishing setting so that viewer have a feel for what’s going on. The characters’ interactions teach viewers the ground rules of pirating in the area so that, even without any specific knowledge of the Adriatic, I feel fairy well-versed on it after watching this movie. The plot also contains enough references to established historical events to help me get my bearings, which is important in a more political film like this one than in the apolitical Kiki’s Delivery Service.

Several specific settings in this film also stand out in my mind for feeling realistic and welcoming. Porco’s beachside home base is one, and when he visits his mechanic, he’s instantly welcomed into the family. Gina’s bar is the final important setting of the film, and it’s a surprisingly complex one, as Gina plays many roles for the pilots who frequent her establishment. I’d love to see more of any of these places, but the fact that they’re all so well-created with a short amount of screen time says a lot to me about how well this movie is made.

CHARACTERS: While the plot is a bit lackluster, the characters are amazing. As I pointed out before, they are missing a bit more backstory, but there is just enough intrigue to really draw you into the story and stay glued to the TV the whole way through. I just wish there could have been a bit more time to explore the characters. By that I don’t mean the film is negatively affected by the lack of information, just that the characters are so wonderfully interesting that I only wish I could have spent more time watching them develop over time.

Porco Rosso works as a freelance bounty hunter of pirates. I wouldn’t say he is intimidating by any means (neither are his enemies), but he shows his prowess well and is known widely by reputation. As a middle aged man, he has seen much of the world and how bitter it can be. While he loves his widow friend Gina, he holds back his feelings in order to protect her from further heart break. Through the help of his new mechanic friend, he is able to learn to see the positive in the world again.

Fio, a young brilliant female mechanic is hired to assist in fixing Porco Rosso’s airplane. She helps him prepare for his fight with the American pilot Curtis, and in the process gets him to see the joy in life again. Rather than developing personally, I’d say Fio’s character is used more as a catalyst for others’ continued growth. She not only helps Porco Rosso out, but also has a way with conversing with people to get what she wants.

Aside from this duo, I’m not too overly fond of the rest of the cast. They aren’t bad, and they are definitely interesting, they’re just not very relatable. Gina is a stoic, business-like woman who sings at a bar. While she serves as a love interest for Porco Rosso, I found myself not really caring about her role within the film. Same goes for the pirates, they were just a bit too easy to write off. I suppose they were still good for laughs at the least, they just didn’t do much more than that.

CHARACTERS: Beyond the strong plot and setting, the characters really make Porco Rosso fly. Everyone’s instantly established as being their own unique person, and pretty much everyone’s likable in some manner.

Porco’s easy to like as a main character, despite his grouchy façade. He puts on a show of being mean for the world, but he’s really a big softy inside, which children can easily see. However, what I love about his character are the reasons behind the way he acts. He’s been around long enough to know that letting anyone love a seaplane pilot can hurt them terribly, so he’s hidden his emotions from the world in an effort not to hurt anyone. Fortunately, this movie sees his character grow a lot in this area.

Gina matches Porco’s ideas about the sadness of life, though she still looks on the bright side of things. When we first meet her, she receives confirmation of her third husband’s death—she’s also no stranger to the dangers pilots face, and she and Porco have a camaraderie because of it. I love whenever Gina shows up because of her refined beauty, but she also has many depths to her character, including a hidden childish side.

Finally, Fio’s an amazing female character who forces her bright-eyed self into Porco’s world and turns everything around. She’s a wonderful visualization how a younger, less-jaded perspective can impact life, and I love seeing her interactions with Porco. She’s an indispensable character here, and she’s one of my favorite females in a Ghibli movie (next to San and Satsuki).

The other characters are also great, bringing in a lot of humor to balance out the harsh realities of life. The seaplane pirates are more funny than scary, but I can still see why someone could find them intimidating.

I think probably half the characters could have been left out with the same ending result, but at least they were all entertaining to watch.

ART STYLE/ANIMATION: I love how different the character designs are for this film. They are evocative of other works, but they are different enough that they stand on their own. I especially enjoy Porco Rosso, with his piglike appearance. The whimsy of the designs creates an almost dreamlike or mythological presence in the film.

My favorite part of the animation story design was watching the WWI flashback of the dogfight that Porco Rosso fled from. This scene is depicted through a series of dreamlike events that break apart the emotion and impact of the event through symbolically-strong imagery. Throughout the remainder of the film I felt that the over-the-top actions of the characters worked to strengthen their resolve and personalities in a way that a more realistic representation would have failed at.

Because this is a Studio Ghibli film, the frames, sequences, and transitions are all magnificently timed out to ramp up the action shots and to draw out the emotional moments in order to capture and highlight each key moment. Really it’s a roller coaster of a ride watching the merry crew at their air antics.

ART STYLE/ANIMATION: Like any Studio Ghibli film, Porco Rosso’s gorgeous, and the beautiful animation appears in many aspects of the film. There are, of course, many great scenes of dogfights in seaplanes, but the smaller, quieter moments are those that last in my memory. The way Gina moves, for instance, does a lot to create mood, as do the quiet, straightforward interactions between Porco and Fio. For all of the madcap hilarity and breathtaking action in this movie, the quiet moments balance them out nicely and do the most to make this film such a multifaceted success.

The character designs include an interesting mix of old Ghibli staples with some characters who are distinct to this film and period. The seaplane pirates feel just like those from Castle in the Sky, while Fio’s definitely a reprise of Nausicaä and the baker from Kiki’s Delivery Service (as well as Ponyo). Porco and Gina, though, are the most distinct characters of the film. Gina especially feels like she couldn’t exist outside of this setting, while Porco’s pig face and war-scarred attitude set him apart from most other Ghibli heroes.

OVERALL: I know I ragged on the plot of this film, but really the clarity issues are so minor that it hardly affects my total love and devotion for this movie. Porco Rosso is one of my favorite Studio Ghibli films and a must watch, and rewatch. The characters are well thought out, original, and a blast to watch as they all interact amongst one another. There is humor, love, angst, and retribution. Not only that, but it’s great to see a hero who is older and wiser, who still has a thing or two to learn about the world.

I think Porco Rosso has a lot of potential for a wide audience, especially a Western one. The setting makes it very appealing to Western fans, as does the era it’s set in. Really, who can ever say no to a World War movie? Then there is the mystical element of Porco Rosso’s face and why he looks like a pig. I only wish that the political setting was a bit clearer for younger audiences and non-history-buffs. That and I’d love to see more on the history of the characters, which just may be an actuality as I hear there may be a sequel in the works.

OVERALL: In case you hadn’t picked up on it, I love this movie to pieces. It’s my favorite Studio Ghibli movie, actually, ahead of My Neighbor Totoro (nostalgia and best meditation on an age) and Princess Mononoke (best thematic whole). For me, Porco Rosso works on so many levels and is also a blast to watch, which is rare for Ghibli films. Normally, they’re either fun to watch and thematically muddled or intellectually strong and drag in the pacing, but Porco Rosso mixes those elements perfectly. It doesn’t strike you over the head with its serious themes, but they’re definitely present and mixed in with humor, action, and excellent characters to make for a wonderful viewing experience. I wish more people would look beyond Porco’s face and give this shot a chance, since it’s one of Hayao Miyazaki’s strongest films.

FINAL SCORE: (10/10 [unbiased 8/10]) FINAL SCORE: (10/10)
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3 thoughts on “Porco Rosso

  1. “I know I ragged on the plot of this film”

    And the setting, and most of the characters. Sorry to say Whitney, your thoughts on Porco Rosso doesn’t read like a 10/10 to me :/. At best, maybe closer to 8.5-9.

    But whatever the case, this has been considered one of the more essential Ghibli films to watch. So I’ll watch it. At some point. I hope!

    • Haha, you’re totally right. I took the score from MyAnimeList, which shows the score I gave the show immediately after viewing it. I think it demonstrates how academically the movie may be flawed, but its entertainment value makes up for it. If I was being truly unbiased I probably would have given it closer to an 8, because it does fall into many of the same traps as other Studio Ghibli films. That said, I still think the energy and charisma of the characters and setting elevate this series up to the top of my list. -W

  2. This is my favourite of the Miyazaki Ghibli movies (the rest all share the number two spot), and the one, I think, that captures his passions the most. I don’t think the plot is really that complicated given the setting of the story. This was a time when honor among pilots was a big deal, hence the pirates and the other pilots being able to hang around the same bar. All disagreements are settled on the outside or in the air, as the case is within the plot itself.
    Porco is a touch more complex as a person, jaded and cynical, perhaps even given up on love after having been turned into a pig, and Fio becomes his salvation as he fights for her honor towards the end.

    Comparatively, it’s almost an anime adaptation of Casablanca.

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