The Nihon Review - Anime Reviews & Editorials

Porco Rosso

Title: Porco Rosso aka The Crimson Pig
Company: Studio Ghibli
Genre: Drama/Action
Format: Movie; 93 minutes.
Date: 18 Jul 1992

Synopsis: “This motion picture is set over the Mediterranean in an age when seaplanes ruled the waves. It tells the story of a valiant pig, who fought against flying pirates, for his pride, for his lover, and for his fortune. The name of the hero of our story is Crimson Pig.”

The Highlights
Airplanes: Details from mechanics to flying motion exhibit profound knowledge and care.
Animation: Bright, crisp, and fluid.
Appeal: Pays homage to the romantic Hollywood classics of the era while retaining the whimsical Ghibli charm.

Porco Rosso is a film that speaks for itself. It opens on a black screen occupied by a dozen little green piglets. These tiny swine move across the screen to the clacking and chiming noise of typewriters, each pig writing out, in different languages, the same darling introduction quoted above. What speaks more than just a plot synopsis is the playful spirit the scene displays, one that never relents throughout the course of the entire picture.

There isn’t a better example of the movie’s whimsy than how it handles airplanes. Miyazaki Hayao‘s other films have prominently featured flying, but here his passion and knowledge of the winged machines spares no details. Wings leave vapor trails, engines leak oil, cranks and levers serve more than just fancy decorations. There is a portion of the film where Porco’s plane is being rebuilt by Piccolo’s sizeable extended family. The meticulous mechanical design, carpentry, and frenzy of dozens of hustling workers amazes me through its care and attention to detail. But regardless of elegant dogfight maneuvers or the frenetic activity of plane building, there is a pervading sense of joy, that this is Miyazaki’s playground.

Ghibli narratives tend to appeal to “wider” audiences (i.e. “younger” than typical), with fantasy settings, soft character designs, and limited profanity or bloodletting, and many of those qualities still hold true here, but Porco Rosso stands apart from the rest of the Ghibli library in several ways. The setting is the historical post-WWI Mediterranean, with subplots of fascist movements in Europe, utilizing a worldview evocative of Casablanca and other romantic Hollywood classics from that same era. The movie also takes multiple opportunities to remind us of the innate beauty of these vistas, with close-in shots zipping across landscapes or wide-frames taking in a picturesque sunset. Scenes inside Gina’s popular cafe or out in her quiet garden on the surface contrast in tone, yet the settings always exude a sense of class and maturity.

Our hero Porco is a big departure from Ghibli‘s trend of very young protagonists, actually the oldest Miyazaki protagonist I can recall (cursed Sophie from Howl’s not withstanding). He’s an adult in every sense; he drinks, smokes heavily, speaks gruffly, and is a well reputed playboy. When another character criticizes him of his slovenly lifestyle, he reassures her, “all middle-aged men are pigs.” Porco is straight from the school of hard-boiled characters a la Humphrey Bogart, and keys the film’s successful homage.

Porco Rosso is not epic in scope, nor does it offer great insight to the human condition. It’s a fun adventure peppered with simple drama that never takes itself too seriously, but it’s handled with uncommon care. It’s animation made with more than just ink, paper, and film. There’s magic, there’s love, and it creates a truly wonderful experience.

The Rating: 8

Reviewed by: kadian1364

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