By Madison Otten
Porco Rosso is a high-flying adventure from Studio Ghibli and Hayao Misazaki, who also created and directed other works such as Princess Mononoke, Spirited Away, My Neighbor Totoro. Porco Rosso premiered in 1992 and earned $59 million while on a ¥9.2 million budget ($85,836 USD). Featuring voice talents such as Micheal Keaton, Susan Eagon, Brad Garrett, and Cary Ewles to help bring the multilayered and charming characters to life. This film is often overlooked for it’s ‘odd’ premise, but if you can move past the cover, you’ll be rewarded with a stunning and heartfelt film with a grand adventure that has been sorely lacking in modern cinema. Beware, spoilers are ahead, so I encourage you to watch this movie any way you can.
Beware, spoilers for the film are ahead. If you haven’t watched it, I sincerely recommend it.
Set in 1930’s Italy, we follow the story of one Marco Pagot, a renegade former Italian air-force pilot turned air pirate pursuing the bounty hunter who goes by the moniker ‘Porco Rosso’ or Crimson Pig. At some point after he left the air force and before becoming a bounty hunter, Marco was cursed with the face of a pig, and from that point he declared himself a pig. Hence the name, Crimson Pig. By day he hunts air pirates, but by night he spends time with his old friend (and unrequited love), Madame Gina, who runs the Hotel Adriano. All is well until a cocky American pilot / screenwriter / actor by the name of Donald Curtis shoots down Porco’s plane in a bid to win Gina’s affection.
The story picks up as Porco travels to Milan in order to get his plane fixed by his trusted engineer, Mr. Piccolo, who has his niece, Fio Piccolo, aid in redesigning and improving it. Porco returns home with his new plane and Fio who insists to be brought along both for the adventure and to badger Porco about his hefty bill, ionly to be immediately challenged by Curtis in a duel. The bet consists of Curtis taking Fio’s hand in marriage if Porco loses, against Curtis paying the (very high) bill for Porco’s new plane if Porco wins. The competition itself is a good, old fashioned, one on one, dogfight; last man standing. The bet is facilitated and hosted by the very band of air pirates that Porco hunts.
The battle ensues against two equally skilled pilots as they try to down the other plane; the battle moves from air to sea after both of their guns jam simultaneously, and the two duke it out in an old fashioned boxing match. The fight ends when Gina arrives informing the fighters and the crowd that the Italian air force is on its way, and Porco wins by being the first one up after a knock out hit. The movie ends with Curtis upholding his end of the bargain then going on to be a Hollywood star, and Fio becoming a full-fledged airplane engineer, inheriting the family business. It’s to be assumed that Porco and Gina got their happily-ever-after together, though the scene is cut in the English dub of the movie.
Porco Rosso is not a sweeping epic, nor is it a serious, gritty thriller. It’s a short glimpse into someone’s life. All of the characters have a certain feeling to them: old, like they’ve seen much of what life has to offer. This becomes especially evident when Porco shares the screen with Fio and Curtis, assumably the youngest of our cast of characters. When Porco’s with Gina or Piccolo, people he’s known for years, you can feel their history; he’s more open and relaxed, whereas with Fio and Curtis, it’s a completely different story.
Curtis and Porco don’t share much screen time, but we can see that Curtis is a young upstart with big dreams and bigger ambitions. He flies in the sun to avoid being seen by his prey. His only reputation is his nationality, the hot-shot American pilot with a Hollywood dream, and everything else we know of Curtis comes from his own mouth. Nobody really gives him the time of day, so he has to interject himself into scenes to be acknowledged.
Porco’s almost the exact opposite: he’s notorious, well respected but feared. His feats of honor and valor are known amongst the pirates, so they and people around speak of his deeds, whereas Porco, himself, never really says anything about his past, aside from his talk with Fio on the beach. Even that wasn’t about great deeds, if anything it was his greatest shame, being the sole survivor of his fleet, and what would ultimately trigger his evidently self inflicted curse. You become what you perceive yourself to be.
(A small side note, if anyone has seen Miyazaki’s other film, Howl’s Moving Castle, based on the book by Dianne Wynne Jones, you can definitely see some parallels between Sophie’s and Porco’s curse; they’re both based upon self-perception. When Porco isn’t thinking about himself or at least is lost in thought, his face returns to that of man’s, as seen within the movie.)
Fio is like Curtis in some regards, an aspiring airplane engineer who is relatively unknown. Fio is a young engineer in a man’s world, Porco even turns his nose up at her when she offers to design his plane. But by using her wit and charm, she not only gains respect from the pirates after giving them a thorough tongue lashing but also gets an essential verbal letter of recommendation from Porco on her skills as an engineer. Unlike Curtis, she doesn’t need to fight to be acknowledged, her presence demands it. The pirates maintain distance upon first encounter while they dogpile Porco, Porco is caught off guard by her guile and is convinced to let her design his new plane, and Curtis is immediately smitten with her and agrees upon a gentleman’s agreement with her, not Porco, who would be the actual participant.
With these characters, the past and the future are constantly in play, with the old and new pilots duking it out, the old enginers pasing down their craft to the next generation, it’s a transitional period between the worlds of the old and new. Which can be said for literally any movie, but I feel that Porco Rosso handles it in a more interesting manner. As I said earlier, it’s not a gritty serious war movie; it’s just a fun, and at times, silly adventure movie that’s made with the characters’ integrity in mind. Porco is not a fun, dumb, annoying animal sidekick whose sole purpose is to make bank on that sweet, sweet merchandising money; Fio is not a Strong Independent Woman™, who occasionally says something trite and contrived to make sure the audience knows she is a SIW™; Curtis is no typical hero. Hell, this movie doesn’t even really follow the traditional hero’s journey (which, might I say, is as refreshing as a glass of water in the desert). All the characters are human; they have substance, history, flaws, and an overall sense of life. They feel like characters from old movies like Casabalnca or even some of the old Westerns. They feel real. And it’s something that’s sorely lacking in modern media.
Porco Rosso is a fantastic story and is often overlooked. I would recommend it to anyone who likes adventure and is looking for something made with love and dedication.