Japanese Title: Kurenai no Buta
Directed By: Hayao Miyazaki
Produced By: Toshio Suzuki
Originally Released: July 18, 1992
Porco Rosso has, until this past week, always been one of the few Ghibli movies that I had never seen. Upon first glance, I didn’t really care for the main character and the trailers never seemed like anything that I’d be interested in. A pig man flying around fighting pirates? Pass. Yet, I’m so glad that this project forced me to sit down and finally watch this film. Though it may be one of Miyazaki’s more ambiguous films, leaving many questions unanswered and not having his usual environmental statement, it really is something special. Captain Marco Pagot might just be one of Miyazaki’s most intriguing characters and the animation here is beyond superb. Let’s take a look at this quirky little film about a pig, his plane and the girl who built it.
Back when Porco Rosso was first conceived, it was financed by Japan Airlines to be made for their in-flight entertainment. Essentially, it was a film about planes that would be shown IN planes. They had asked that the film run 30-45 minutes long. That way it could be used for either Domestic or International flights. Yet, as we know Miyazaki does, he got a bit carried away and before long the film was a feature length and had even taken on more sponsors. The film itself is sort of Miyazaki’s love letter to planes as he had been fascinated with them all his life. After all, the name ‘Ghibli’ came from a plane and in the film, Marco even flies a plane with a Ghibli engine. This fact alone makes this film one of the most personal to Miyazaki.
Porco Rosso harkens back to the old days of Hollywood. Everything here feels like something out of Casa Blanca. It’s the story of a rogue loner who thinks he’s better off alone. Yet, even when he finds people willing to help him, he can’t seem to accept that help. He’s just a guy living in a world that no longer accepts him. In a lot of ways, this feels like Miyazaki is talking about himself. In one scene in a theater, which features Gertie the Dinosaur, the first ever animated character, Marco is told that no one can fly from themselves anymore. Every pilot has to work for someone to make it by. This seems to be the general idea in starting Studio Ghibli, a place where the story tellers and animators were doing the films they wanted to do, not the films that a big studio wanted.
While this might be one of our first Miyazaki films to not feature a female lead, the women are really making magic happen in this film. Even though Porco Rosso is inherently a film about two men trying to beat each other at the “Who is the Manliest” game, Porco Rosso has a lot more female character than male. Madame Gina is the classic female from every Hollywood film ever. She’s been through a lot of husbands and I think that is why she is now so tough. But it’s also why she accepts Marco for who he is. She loves him, despite the fact that she knows he may never lover her back.
Then there’s Fio. She’s the complete opposite of Gina. A bit of a tomboy, Fio masterfully builds Marco’s plane and takes off with him fearlessly. She has a massive desire to make a good product and she’s very resourceful. I also love that she doesn’t let anyone tell her what she can’t do. When Marco says she can’t make his plane, she replies that he shouldn’t judge her because she is a girl. After all, what choice did she have in the matter. In fact, his whole plane is built by the women of the village as many are looking for work after their husbands have left to join the military. For being a film about men roughing it out, Porco Rosso happens to have more than a few strong feminist themes.
One point of contention on this film that I’m sure will divide people is the lack of information. The ending is incredibly ambiguous and we never really find out which of these ladies, if either ever ended up with Marco or if he ever found happiness in his life. We also never quite figure out how he got turned into a pig. I think we can imply that his near death experience was the reason, but it’s never said 100%. It’s a film that shows us a glimpse of this world and leaves us to infer the rest as we fill in the missing pieces. But the real triumph is that I cared to ponder what happened to these characters after the credits rolled. Fio and Marco in particular are just so fun to watch and their relationship became something that I wanted more of. In fact, I often wondered when the dog fights would end so we could get back to the excellent character development.
Porco Rosso was a huge hit at the theaters and it’s easy to see why. With such a light hearted soul, it’s a film that’s fun to watch because even the darkest of moments are still fairly light. The children who are kidnapped by pirates early on are ecstatic about being kidnapped. People come out in droves to watch a dog fight. Everyone seems excited by the possibility of a fight. It makes it a very easy to stomach film. Whether or not the whole family is going to get something out of this one is up for debate, but it does prove to be a highly polished film that really showcases the changing times and what a person has to be willing to do to strike out on their own and not accept the system as the only answer. Despite having many socio-political quandaries within, Porco Rosso is really just a tale about a man…er…pig, trying to live his own life, by his own rules. And that dream is one well worth flying for.
NEXT UP: Pom Poko
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My favorite Ghibli movie! It was good to read about it through new eyes.
Yeah, while most of it is ambiguous, it does make a charming tale! I’m glad Fio got to kiss him at the end.