Review of Porco Rosso (1992)

Moving picture, 94 minutes

Suzuki Toshio (producer), Miyazaki Hayao (writer-director).

Fascists strive for power around the Adriatic as the Great Depression grips the world. A seaplane pilot who guiltily survived WW1 keeps the regional air pirates at bay and afloat until he runs into a gallant and ruthless American.

An intensely nostalgic European aerial combat adventure with an element of Buddhist fable, in that the main character was reincarnated as a pig without really dying (transcarnated?), and everyone notices this, but nobody minds. Compare the minor character Michele in Two Women (1960), an Italian who has retreated to the countryside and eats well during WW2. Michele exclaims “We’re pigs! Admit it, we’re pigs.” Compare also Miyazaki’s “Princess Mononoke: The First Story” (1980), where a young man preoccupied by selfish pleasures similarly changes into an animal and then gets a chance to redeem himself.

The multilingual opening recalls McLaren’s “Boogie-Doodle” (1948). Some names are recycled from 3000 Leagues in Search of Mother (1976) and the sign held up by the team of teratomorphs in the closing credits also alludes to that earlier project (“3000½”).

Miyazaki wrote the earlier brief comic. This was his greatest ego trip at the time: Old machines, flight, slapstick action, lots of honour and sympathy, a pig in the title role, and shallow romance. The preschool girls kidnapped in the opening are even more joyful than the slightly older girls from St. Christopher’s in The Lavender Hill Mob (1951). The long scenes in Piccolo’s workshop talking about monocoques bring a wonderful gravity to the flight scenes. The whole film is full of the “joy of animation”, but the tonal control is precarious. Miyazaki initially wanted to keep it very light but then tried to inject a bit more seriousness on account of the war in former Yugoslavia. The result is vaguely disjointed misandry, ephebophilia and casual violence on a weak narrative frame. Enjoy the great details and ignore the rest.

References here: Ghibli movie titles, The Wind Rises (2013), Mary and the Witch’s Flower (2017), Ruben Brandt, Collector (2018).

animation fiction Ghibli Japanese production moving picture