A military deserter becomes a bounty hunter. He enjoys fighting sky pirates and ugly Americans. Also… he’s a pig. It might seem too strange, if it wasn’t a Studio Ghibli film.
Writer: Hayao Miyazaki
Director: Hayao Miyazaki
Release Date: 1992
Version Watched: English Dubbed
I’ve never been a fan of talking animal stories, not even as a kid. Maybe I was scarred by my first introduction to talking animals, Charlotte’s Web, but I tend to be resistant to any film that involves animals speaking, especially when they are anthropomorphic. This is most likely why I’ve put off seeing Studio Ghibli’s Porco Rosso, until now.
The Basic Story
Porco Rosso (Crimson Pig) is a former Italian army flying ace who now works as a gun for hire. He lives in a tent on a beach, where he spends his days smoking, drinking wine, and tinkering with his airplane. Not a bad life.
When his services are needed, he sets off to thwart air pirates, using a combination of fighting skills and wit. He meets his match however, when a brassy Texan, Donald Curtis, comes to town. As the arrogant American, Curtis wants to prove his superiority, and shoots down the famous pilot Porco Rosso. Porco escapes harm, but his plane is not so lucky. He seeks out his friend/mechanic Piccolo, and with help from Piccolo’s spunky, engineering genius granddaughter, Fio, Porco Rosso’s plane is ready just in time for a plane duel with Curtis. Porco shows Curtis who is boss.
So He’s a Pig?
Yes. Porco Rosso is a pig, an actual pig. He wears human clothing, he even has a mustache. All of the humans in the world seem to accept this fact without a lot of questioning. He’s just that guy who turned into a pig. He spends a lot of time in Italy, and I wondered if there were any awkward encounters in restaurants involving Prosciutto. He’s even popular with the ladies, despite being a swine.
The origin of why Porco Rosso is a pig is a bit fuzzy. Originally a human named Marco, he was a fighter pilot in World War I. During an intense battle, Marco sees all of his friends and fellow fighters on both sides of the battle die. He is the only survivor. He ascends into the clouds, and emerges a pig. It is stated several times in the film that his pigness is a curse. No additional explanation is given. One school of thought is that Marco elected to turn into a pig. After experiencing the horrors of battle, Marco no longer wanted to be a human, because humans are capable of terrible things. This makes sense. Perhaps Marco’s guilt over all of the blood he spilled during the war moved him to choose the form of a pig, because if you did decide to turn into an animal, I would think you’d pick something more badass like a cheetah.
STEM Girls Are Cool
Unlike most Studio Ghibli films, the characters in Porco Rosso felt a bit bland. Porco’s not overly charming, nor overly curmudgeonly, he’s likable, but he doesn’t spark. He’s pretty dower for a main character. There is no real character arc for him in the story. You think that maybe in the end something will occur that turns him back into a human, but that is not the case.
I enjoyed that in this movie, the villain is an American, but he was more a big, comical jerk, than a scary evil monster.
The real villain seemed to be the Italian secret police, who are still after Porco Rosso for deserting the Italian air force, but they are only a mentioned threat.
The breath of fresh air in the film is Fio, the seventeen-year-old, red headed, engineering genius, who is keen for adventure. Fio commands the screen.
She is the most Ghibli out of the characters in the film. She is brave, witty, determined, and independent minded. She can hold her own with the jaded middle-aged-pig, and doesn’t let anyone put her down just for being a girl.
I ended up feeling lukewarm about Porco Rosso. Maybe it was my aversion to a talking animal main character. Maybe it was that much of the story is about being a middle aged man, something I am not. I appreciate the filmmaker’s need to make something different. After all, who wants to make the same film over and over, yet Porco Rosso felt like it was missing something. It was missing some of the Ghibli magic. There was something disjointed about it. It felt busy compared to other Studio Ghibli movies. It moved quickly. It jumped from scene to scene. It’s still worth a watch. There are some fun moments, but it won’t be on my favorite Studio Ghibli movie list.