“I’d rather be a pig than a fascist.” – Porco Rosso
This movie took me a really long time to see. I had heard of it through previews on other Studio Ghibli movies I own, and honestly didn’t really have any want to see this. A Pig flying planes? It seemed a bit odd (although apparently this is more odd than anything in Spirited away or Howl’s Moving Castle?? I dunno how my brain works sometimes), and I’m not into planes, and there seemed to be a LOT of planes in this movie. It didn’t matter that it was Miyazaki. It didn’t interest me.
Enter one of the websites I waste my time on: thatguywiththeglasses.com. It’s a video site where they have a lot of different contributors, including the Nostalgia Critic, Nostalgia Chick and Jesu Otaku. The last one reviews anime and whatnot, normally stuff I don’t enjoy. But at one point not that long ago, she did a whole month of Miyazaki movies (one of her videos I actually am going to link to… next review). I watched the review of this movie, and I was sold. Suddenly, I had to watch this movie. So I literally went on Amazon and I bought it, right then right there. I’m normally not a person to buy a movie without seeing it first (either in theaters or netflix) but this one i just had to. And now? wow. pleasantly surprised.
This movie is SO much more than just about planes. I honestly don’t know why i thought it would JUST be about planes. It is Miyazaki after all! The characters are great. The humor is great. it went from being completely obscure to a movie I can watch over and over again and not get sick of. Much like Castle in the Sky, this movie is just pure fun (although it is also extremely serious at times)
Our titular character, Porco Rosso (literally: Crimson Pig), was a human during WWI, but had a near death experience and woke up under a curse as a pig. Now, he pledges his abilities to no country, instead turning to the life of a bounty hunter, helping capture pirates in the Mediterranean sea. Yeah, this movie is set in Europe. It’s a nice change.
Anyway, the air pirates that Porco has been thwarting have apparently decided to join forces and come after him. Instead of dealing with it, Porco decides to fly to Milan to get his plane fixed. On his way, he gets into a dogfight with an American pilot hired by the air pirates, Curtis, who shoots Porco down, believing him to be dead.
However of course Porco is not dead. He gets to Milan to have his old friend Piccolo fix his plane, only to learn that he is not doing work anymore, and instead is having his granddaughter Fio tend to the plane. Porco isn’t sure about her inexperience, but she is persistent and eventually proves to Porco that she is, in fact, a brilliant engineer.
While in Milan, the italian police get word he is there. He has abandoned his post as a soldier, is a war criminal, and they intend to arrest him. He must leave, but the plane is not 100% yet, so Fio talks herself into going with Porco. They manage to get out of Milan and back to Porco’s hideaway island, only to have the air pirates along with Curtis descend. They intend to destroy his plane and destroy him.
Fio manages to talk them out of their plan, instead claiming that they need to retain their honor and put it to a proper dogfight instead. Curtis challenges Porco to a duel, the terms being that if he wins, he marries Fio, and if Porco wins, Curtis has to pay off all the debt he owes for his plane.
The next day the duel gets underway, Curtis and Porco attempt a dogfight, but eventually both their guns get jammed. They end up in a fist fight in the shallow water, which is only broken up after Gina (our love interest that you’re only sort of now hearing about) shows up and gives him the courage to win.
But Gina came with a warning as well: the Italian air force heard what’s happening and is planning on coming to intercept the pirates as well as Porco, arresting them all. He puts Fio in Gina’s plane, tells her to take the girl away, and he and Curtis agree to distract the italian air force. Before he leaves, Fio leans over and gives him a kiss on the cheek, and Curtis notices something different about his face…
Hayao Miyazaki has said that this movie is very personal. He sees himself as Porco, and this is, in that way, a movie about him. Read into that as much as you wish. I just think it’s something interesting to mention before I get into it.
As a personal movie, I believe Porco (or Marco – that’s his actual name – Gina’s the only one who calls him that though) as a character to be one of Miyazaki’s most complex, deep, dark characters. Technically, he is an anti-hero. He is selfish, and would rather work of his own accord. He essentially abandoned the Italian air force to go off and do his own things, and now finds himself a bounty hunter, a sky robin hood, working to keep the pirates away from the civilians. At the same time, he’ll interact with the pirates. They all know each other and you swear that if Porco was more social, he may actually even be friends with them.
He speaks (at least as Michael Keaton voices him) in a monotone, drawing, low voice. He’s self-deprecating, almost enjoying bringing people’s attention to the fact that he is a pig, and he uses his appearance and his curse as an excuse for everything. He knows he’s being punished for the way he lived his life, but instead of trying to do something to fix it and change it, he would rather sit and wallow in his own self-hatred.
The way he got into this mess and got his curse is also really interesting, and almost proves that the universe had something else in mind for him and his life. As he tells Fio, he and his buddies were fighting in WWI when all of a sudden his plane was drawn toward the clouds and above them was a “stream” of planes, each rising toward the heavens. His buddies were there (including Gina’s husband), and he saw them, but then sank back below the clouds. Obviously, it’s a near death experience, but it almost puts all this guilt into his head. why was i saved when those better men died? It weighs on him in all the things he does, and in the relationships he chooses to have. His relationship with Gina, the wife of his dead best friend, is stand-offish, even though it is clear she is in love with him, and he quite possibly has feelings for her. The other friends he has are all business, like his plane guy, Piccolo. It’s only when Fio comes around and almost forces herself into his life that he is able (still reluctantly) to change and look out for someone else other than himself. She softens his heart just enough to make him realize that life might just be worth living.
Porco is a really amazing enjoyable character even though he is so… unlikeable. But he’s not the only character that makes this movie worth watching. My other personal favorite (and probably most people’s) is Fio, Piccolo’s granddaughter. She deserves a place on the list of Miyazaki’s strong female characters, no doubt about it. Not only is she an amazing engineer and completely redesigns Porco’s plane, but she is extremely fearless. She wants to go with him and have adventures, she stands up to a huge herd of air pirates without batting an eye, and talks to them with the authority of someone much older than she is. She’s smart by suggesting the duel as opposed to letting everyone destroy Porco’s plane because she knows it will save Porco’s life and his plane. she can stand her own with the creep Curtis, even when he falls over her. She’s amazing and funny. Her love of Porco is different than that of Gina, but that doesn’t mean that it isn’t real. If anything, the connection and the relationship that forms between the two is odd in some ways, but completely believable in others. She’s the one who makes him realize life is worth living. She’s the one who makes him realize that someone can care about him.
Our other characters are memorable as well. Curtis as the american pilot is a slimy, self-centered man who talks about being an actor and tries to flirt and marry every beautiful woman he meets. At the same time, he’s not a full on bad guy. He’s still enjoyable, and at the end he learns almost as much as Porco. In the end, the two of them that were at odds with each other work together to save the masses of air pirates and other people. I do have to mention that in the English dub, I really wish they would have picked someone other than Cary Elwes. We all know him, right? Wesley from the Princess Bride… Robin Hood in Robin Hood: Men in Tights. He has a british accent. In this movie, he’s from Texas. I’ll let that sink in a bit………… Yeah. Cary Elwes doing a Texan accent is NOT that great….
The rest of the air pirates are hilarious. Brad Garrett voices the leader of a band of pirates that looks just as funny as they act. Again though, we get the feeling that these aren’t necessarily bad people. They’re just doing what they do. In fact, in the beginning when his crew kidnaps some school girls from a cruise ship, they make sure that none of them are hurt, they keep them together (“we don’t want to separate them from their friends!”) and don’t do anything to act incredibly evil to them. In fact the girls end up taking over their airship with their shenanigans, obviously not afraid to be with pirates. If anything, this is a natural occurrence and they even remark that it was fun after Porco rescues them.
The last character I’m going to talk about is Gina. It may not be too hard to tell that I think she is possibly the weakest character in this movie. that doesn’t mean she’s not interesting, just with the characters we have, she’s just kinda… blah. Maybe that’s the point. She’s pining for Porco, trying to get him to understand her husband dying isn’t his fault and that she’s moved on. They’ve known each other for years, since they were kids, and she owns a club on an island where she just waits in her garden for Porco to realize he’s ready to move on. In some ways I envy her, because she’s patient and is willing to just wait for the guy she truly loves. But like I said. She’s blah. I really can’t describe it. Maybe it’s because the other characters are so unique. She’s almost the most normal. I think that’s what they were going for with her, but I dunno… to me, she’s just kinda stuck in there as a semi-useless love interest. Although she does warn them about the air force at the end, so I guess she’s not completely worthless.
The ending is interesting. After Fio kissing Porco on the cheek and Curtis makes a remark that his face looks different, it leads one to ask a bit more about this curse. Did Fio break it? was he even under a curse at all? Could he have looked like a person instead of a pig of his own accord? There is another time when he and Fio are on his island. She is sleeping, wakes up, and sees his real face. But was it, or was it a dream?
My personal opinion is that the curse was of his own accord. He was feeling sorry for himself and selfish and guilty and self-depricating. There was nothing in his life to live for anymore, and he felt as if every minute of every day was a reminder of what he did: he survived when better men should have. The “curse” is him becoming what he thinks of himself. In the end of the movie, he forgave himself and realized that he has something to live for. In a way, this movie is almost about someone getting over and dealing with PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). Kinda interesting. But yeah, that’s my opinion.
The action in this movie is great. The dog fights with the planes and the air pirates are very well drawn, as are the details on all the buildings in Italy and along the mediterranean. You really do feel like this is Europe, and it’s beautiful. The humor in this movie is unmatched in his other movies. I really do feel like this one might just be his funniest. It’s almost like it found that perfect balance between serious antiheroes, funny characters and one liners, and action and adventure.**
If you haven’t seen it, don’t be like me and wait years and years because you don’t think it’s quite “your thing.” This movie is a hidden gem and might be one of the most underrated of his movies here in the United States. I know it’s my husbands favorite Miyazaki movie, and it is definitely close to the top for me. I wish I would have seen it earlier. I definitely recommend this movie. It’s not even too bad for kids, even younger ones. They may think it’s a bit boring though. Except for the fighting scenes.
I give Porco Rosso a 4.2 out of 5. Although I love it, there are a few parts that bore me, and like I said, Gina to me is a very weak character in an otherwise amazing movie.
Up Next: Princess Mononoke (1997)
** Side note: This movie is actually getting a sequel sometime in the next few years. Even though Miyazaki is retired as of 2013 (sad!!) he is helping to write a sequel for Porco Rosso and getting Hiromasa Yonebayashi (one of his key animators since ’97 and director of The Secret World of Arriety (2010)). Should be interesting. I really want to know where they’re going to go with it.