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As I've covered in my previous Studio Ghibli reviews, studio founder Hayao Miyazaki has always held a fascination with flight and flying machines, which really make this, his love letters to these passions, even more so when he is given such free reign to explore these passions here in a way hadn't had with his previous films and its an opportunity he fully embraces
Set in 1930s Italy, veteran WW1 pilot Porco Rosso (Michael Keaton) makes a living hunting the local sky pirates, when not drinking away his evenings at his long-time friend Gina's bar. However when the local sky pirates hire the arrogant American Ace Curtis (Cary Elwes), Porco finds his peaceful life thrown into turmoil as he heads towards an inevitable showdown for dominance of the skies with Curtis, while also unintentionally gaining a feisty mechanic in the form of Fio (Kimberly Willams).
One of the more overlooked titles in the Ghibli back catalogue alongside the likes of "Little Norse Prince" and "Pom Poko" it is still unclear to myself why it isn't viewed as being on the same level of "Kiki's Delivery Service" and "Laputa: Castle in the Sky" especially when this is perfect entry title to Ghibli's with its fast and humorous plotting, colourful characters and exciting flight scenes all make for an accessible film even for viewers getting their first taste of anime. As a result it joins a rather unique club of movies alongside films likes of Kurosawa's "Red Beard", Hitchcock's "I Confess" and Spielberg's "Amistad". All films equally on a par with their better known films, yet for one reason or another seemingly destined to remain as lower ranked films on their resume.
Opening to Porco rescuing a group of kidnapped schoolgirls from the Mamma Aiuto Gang, the tone of the film is set from the start, with the bumbling sky pirates and Porco's philosophy of only damaging the pirates planes to put them out of action temporarily rather than permanently to ensure he can hunt them another day as part of an unspoken symbiotic relationship they share, if more from Porco's side so he can maintain his carefree existence. The fact that he also has the face of a pig being of minor concern to everyone it would seem, even in terms of plotting were it is never fully explained and instead alluded to an act of cowardice committed by Porco while serving in the Italian Air force during WW1 and from whom he is still being AWOL.
The world the film is set is far from a realistic one as it bars all the usual fantastical touches which have become so reknown with Miyazaki's work, even if this time he not setting the film in a fantastical land, but instead Miyazaki's vision of the Adriatic coast and Milan in a pre-war Italy. The tone though is kept intentionally light hearted throughout, as established in the opening were we see the kidnapped schoolgirls being far from concerned at the prospect of being kidnapped by the Mamma Aiuto Gang, especially when they spend the experience generally causing mischief and havoc for the gang. Despite the humorous tone the film still manages to fall somewhere between the two distinct styles of film making Miyazaki, with his film either falling into a cynical or positive categories, here he has made a film which can never be placed in either categories as here he focuses on the small things which make life worth living, while alluding to the horror which we create for ourselves with war during a flashback were Porco remembers seeing a spectral trail which upon closer examination turns out to be the souls of lost fighter pilots. Still this is a film which isn't going for heavy social commentary but wonder and amazement instead as here he is clearly firing on all cylinders as both storyteller and craftsman.
Unquestionably though this is a film which Miyazaki has made for himself first and foremost, as clearly seen by the amount of references to the pioneers of aviation through to the details which have gone into the various planes and thrilling Ariel sequences none the more seen than during the final showdown between Porco and and Curtis which starts despite starting as a traditional dogfight soon takes on a mischievous edge as the two pilots resort to throwing junk from their planes at each other, before finally deciding to land and settle things with a spontaneous boxing match. Such a sequence is only really pulled of on the strength of the characters with Curtis being everybit the brash American while at the same time clearly being modelled after the heroes Errol Flynn was renown for playing while the two also clearly share a jawline to boot.
Unlike the other dubs which Studio Ghibli have received on their other titles the English voice cast on hand here certainly contains a lot less star power than some of the more popular titles, with Michael Keaton being the closest the cast list comes to an A-list name. Despite this the dub is none the less superb, with Keaton once again being unrecognisable as seems to always be the way whenever he lends his voice to an animated character. Despite the lack of star power each of the cast really embody their characters and really make them seem believable.
While it might not be as deep as "Princess Mononoke or as playful as "My Neighbour Totoro" but this is still an enjoyable film none the less while Miyazaki proves himself more than capable of working outside of his comfort zone.
Porco Rosso is a Japanese animated film, written and directed by Hayao Miyazaki from Studio Ghibli. Miyazaki is a famous animator, known as the Japanese Walt Disney due to the height of his popularity in Japan. While he was more renowned in his home country, he finally made his name in Hollywood when he won an Oscar for his animated film Spirited Away, in 2002.
I have been a fan of the Studio Ghibli films after watching Princess Mononoke and long held a desire to watch some of his earlier works from the 80s and 90s, but unfortunately, these films were not released outside of Japan. However, the success of Princess Mononoke and Spirited Away soon led to the Studio Ghibli back catalogue being slowly released on DVD in America, and eventually the UK.
Porco Rosso was one of the films I had read about long before getting a chance to watch it and the description and photos I had seen online definitely piqued my interest in this film. Porco Rosso is the story of a former Italian fighter pilot who has retired to the Adriatic Sea after World War One. He makes his living as a freelance bounty hunter and frequently clashes with the local air pirates. Oh, and I should point out, he's a pig. Literally, a pig!
At some point prior to the film's beginning, Porco was cursed and his once human features disappeared, and he became a talking pig. This embitters him somewhat, and his personality becomes that of a recluse, shunning company and depriving himself of a potential relationship with the local bar-owner, Gina. The story develops when a dashing American pilot arrives at the island and not only works with the pirates to rid themselves of this troublesome pig, but gradually becomes involved in a love triangle between him, Gina and Porco.
I loved this film, mainly due to the unique setting. There aren't many animated films set during the two World Wars in the Adriatic Sea, and there's a definite romantic mood to the story, which I really enjoyed. It's reminiscent of Beauty and the Beast in some ways, mixed in with a dash of Casablanca. The beauty of the film is that it works on two levels, it's entertaining enough for children to watch on a purely aesthetic level with the flying pig and air battles, but there's also a really strong and adult story behind it. Like the best animated films, it is made for both children and parents to enjoy together.
The film has a slow, gentle pace and there's no gore, violence or unsuitable scenes. It's actually quite laid-back, like its setting and spends the majority of the screen time, developing both the characters and the mood of the film, rather than fumble from action scene to action scene. That's not to say there's no action in the movie, the climatic scenes are particularly thrilling and you'll be hoping that this pig can fly...at least, better than a dashing American can.
I would recommend this to families who enjoy Disney films and want to try something similar, but with a different approach. There's no sing-along theme songs in this or goofy sidekick characters - it's a good film with a strong plot that just happens to be about an animated flying pig. To that end, people without young children can still enjoy this film and take something from it. It's a great introduction to the world of Studio Ghibli, which has nearly thirty years of back catalogue of strong, narrative-driven animated movies to discover.
This DVD includes the American voice-over edition, with Michael Keaton as Porco Rosso and Cary Elwes as Curtis. It also contains the original Japanese soundtrack with English subtitles if you prefer to view the movie, as intended. The American dub is pretty good, unlike some anime voice-overs and the characters both sound as you'd expect and the script hasn't been changed drastically. In terms of special features, there are some storyboards to view through the disc menus, an interview with the producer, Toshio Suzuki and the Original Japanese trailer, which is interesting to watch after seeing the film, just to see how different their trailers are to ours.
Asian animation extraordinaire Hayao Miyazaki over the last decade or so has managed to slip into the Western public conscious thanks to the acclaim of his work with Studio Ghibli; a leader in family friendly, Japanese animation. Dubbed as the "Japanese Walt Disney" (which by the way he hates), Miyazaki has invaded our conscious with his last two releases especially. 'Howl's Moving Castle'; his latest effort, translated the pages of Diane Wynne Jones' novel into a visual feast of a motion picture. However, it was his predecessor to this; 'Spirited Away' that got him that spotlight in the first place. A film with more imagination than a year's worth of by the numbers, Hollywood tat, 'Spirited Away' broke the West into Studio Ghibli's charming style and sensibilities not to mention brought to light their extensive and varying back catalogue of wonder to a new audience. 'Porco Rosso' is one of those Studio Ghibli titles of yesteryear, virtually ignored over here when it was first released back in the early nineties.
Set in an alternate 1920's, the story revolves around Marco "Porco" Rosso a once great fighter pilot turned (quite literally) into a humanoid pig for reasons unclear to only that of Porco himself. But that was all in the past. Nowadays, Porco lives a successful and much feared bounty hunter, getting called in to help out in all sorts of dangerous situations that require the use of his sea plane. We are introduced to Porco as he is about to carry out a daring rescue of stolen money and a group of schoolgirl hostages from bumbling air pirates.
Things start to change however when cocky, American pilot Donald Curtis enters the picture, (unfairly) shoots Porco down in the Adriatic and starts making moves on Porco's unrequited love interest Gina; a lounge singing in one of the most popular bars/hotels in the region.
Porco survives the attack and lays low in Italy; a more dangerous prospect than it sounds as the fascist regime in charge quite literally want Porco's head for past incidents. Porco rebuilds his plane with the help of his trusted mechanic and his young granddaughter eager to prove her worth with the intention of putting Curtis in his place with one final challenge.
'Porco Rosso' is a film that oozes with nostalgia and timeless appeal. The film has a huge 'Casablanca' vibe about it; the danger, the exotic locales, the will they/won't they romance, the excitement and so on. This film gives the same warm, fuzzy feeling than when you hear Humphrey Bogart say "Here's looking at you kid" for the first time. Danger could lurk around any corner in Porco's world; sleeping the days away on a secret and secluded beach, waiting for the next potential suicide mission to present itself. However, this is more 'inspired by' rather than full on rip off of the classic movie. Ironically, the scene in the Hotel Ardriano seamlessly recreates the atmosphere of danger that was captured in Rick's bar of 'Casablanca', whereas the seemingly endless slew of 'Casablanca' TV series, spoofs, rip offs, re-imaginings all more of less failed.
Anyways, Porco (voiced gruffly by Michael Keaton in the English dub) is the archetypal loner, set in his ways, cares only about survival with notions of things like love being only a faded memory, a memory that usually haunts the character of this description. There is a sense of reckless abandon produced in his quick witted comebacks and film noir like swagger. He has no visible problem with having the appearance of a pig, sometimes even citing it as an advantage: "Laws are of no concern to a pig", Porco quips with all the deadpan vigour of an animated Humphrey Bogart. His pirate adversaries share both a disdain and admiration for Porco's legendary plane flying skills. There is also a strange aura of honour and dignity in this most cutthroat of cultures; Porco letting his vanquished keep enough of the stolen money to make repairs to their shot up aircraft is one such bizarre gesture in a world where trust is a valuable commodity.
Miyazaki seems to be able to effortlessly craft vivid worlds of colour and visual excitement and 'Porco Rosso' is not an exception. Although the film doesn't bear the heavy mystical, fantasy leanings of Miyazaki's latest entries in the Ghibli cannon, 'Porco Rosso' takes us to an arguably more beautiful, serene environment that still has enough of a grounding in reality to induce very real dangers on its characters. Whereas films like 'Spirited Away' let our imagination run riot all over the proverbial playground of human emotion, 'Porco Rosso' has a more understated, rough and ready approach and although its not quite the trailblazing success story that is 'Spirited Away', it is still a huge triumph in its own right. This film leaves such a joyous resonance in one's mind that you start to realise just how mundane our day to day reality is. Rarely has escapism felt this good.
As for the animation itself, although not quite up to scratch with the more modern, computer assisted stuff of late is still something to behold. There's somewhat of a charm and naivety about it, harking back to a simpler time when travelling (especially air travel) was considered a highly exotic thing to do, reserved only for the likes of millionaire playboys and movie stars. There is a great sense of freedom to Porco's way of life. Wouldn't it be amazing if you could wake up and fly your own sea plane to wherever you wanted? And don't forget, this was set in a time where the restrictions on air travel that we have today didn't exist. The animation, put simply, is wonderful.
'Porco Rosso' is a well recommend venture away from the trappings of normal life leaving you with a giddy sense of nostalgia. Xenophobes can rest assured that an English dub is available and I do find that Ghibli dubs are at the better end of the quality scale than others, usually recruiting well known talent (in this case Michael Keaton) to take on vocal duties. This is something that anime fans of all ages can enjoy and is not exclusively for that of children, which a lot of narrow minded individuals choose to believe about anime in general. Please note that this is not a "cartoon" and is a highly accomplished piece of its medium, for those who appreciate this sort of thing at least.
Director: Hayao Miyazaki
Language: Japanese/English dubbed
Time Approx: 93 minutes
Studio Ghibli is in my opinion one of the best production companies out there. They have produced many classics including the ever popular Spirited Away, and Howl's Moving Castle. This film is typical Ghibli, however its one that i always struggle makingmy mind up about.
Its the story of a fighter pilot bounty hunter. Its set in an different universe, very similar to our 1920s, over the Adriatic Sea. Oh, and he is a pig.
I found when i first watched this that i was somewhat dissapointed. I thought that the story was very shallow, and i was left, not so much wanting more, but wanted to know what happened. However this changed second time, where i didn't quite care about the story, and was left in a state of awe at the strength of the lead character, and the landscape that occupies the whole film. I didnt care about the story (as much as i do in other films), because i was just wishing i could live in such a place and befriend the characters.
Because of these points i still find it struggle to decide if this is actually a good film, or if i falls short.
Early in 2007 I decided I would try and teach myself Japanese. To that end, I began buying various books on the subject, but also thought it would be a good idea to buy various Japanese anime too. Id always been a fan of Japanese animation as much of my early life was spent abroad, so often it was the only kind of cartoon I encountered.
Porco Rosso was released in 1992 by Studio Ghibli. Studio Ghibli is probably one of the better known animation houses from Japan in the west, having produced some of the most popular animations in Japan, many of which have been exported to the west and have had an English script and soundtrack dubbed for them. Films such as Spirited Away, Princess Mononoke and Kikis Delivery Service to name but three. Porco Rosso is the second in a series of DVDs being released for the western market.
Porco Rosso is about an Italian seaplane pilot, originally named Marco, who has had a curse placed on him and was turned into a pig. Having deserted from the Italian air force after The Great War, (or the First World War as it was later known), Porco Rosso becomes a bounty hunter, protecting the skies in the Adriatic from pirates. Due to his red plane, he is nick-named 'The Crimson Pig'.
Like many other Studio Ghibli animations, this movie is set in a kind of 1930/1940s era, but an era where the Second World War never happened. As such we see Porco and various other characters flying around in propeller-powered aeroplanes, both mono-winged and bi-winged.
The movie itself is well animated indeed, if nothing else with Studio Ghibli, you always know that the animation is going to be first rate with plenty of visual splendour that should keep children entertained, as well as impressing adults too. I have found that they always animate water very well, as well as smoke. For some reason in almost every Studio Ghibli animation Ive seen someone is always smoking.
In addition to the animation, there are also some excellent performances from the voice talents. The English version of the movie stars Michael Keaton (Beetle Juice, Batman) and Cary Elwes (The Princess Bride, Robin Hood: Men In Tights) as Porco Rosso and his nemesis Curtis respectively. It also stars Kimberly Williams as Fio, the young girl who redesigns Porcos plane after a crash and goes with him as his on-board engineer, as well as various other talented actors and actresses providing various other parts.
I think where the movie suffers most is from a lack of detail regarding the back-story. For example, you know that Porco Rosso has been cursed, but you never find out why or what he did to deserve it. That said, I realise that looking at this through the eyes of an adult, (well, physically anyway - I probably still have the mental age of a five year-old in fairness), it is possible to over analyse the plot; however it has to be remembered that in Japan, much more so than in the west, animation is not solely for childrens entertainment. Ive watched many other Studio Ghibli animations that were rated U or PG and thought that there was something for everyone to enjoy, regardless of their age. Porco Rosso however felt a little underplayed. I can accept a pig flying a plane, but I would have liked to of known how that came to happen.
Another potential issue some people might have with the movie is the ending. Rather than the expected and they all lived happily ever after, theres a more life continued as it always was sort of vibe. I myself found this a refreshing change, though it did seem a little odd in an animation of this sort. I wouldnt say I was disappointed by the ending, but I was left with a few questions I wouldve liked answered.
That said, the script overall is very well written and does have some genuinely funny moments. For that reason I found I wasnt too annoyed about not having more back-story or by the ending and was still able to enjoy the movie in its own right. Equally, there are some well written sections where the back-story is revealed wonderfully. For example, we find that when Porco returns to Milan the authorities have a warrant for his arrest, but its not immediately clear why. Soon after we discover that he deserted his post as a fighter pilot in the air force. These sections I felt where well done and helped to engage the viewer, whilst at the same time helping to explain certain events.
With regards to the DVD itself, like every other disc in the Studio Ghibli collection, the disc is a fairly basic affair, without any booklet or chapter-sheet. This, however, is not any great disappointment for myself as I purchased this on special offer from Amazon for around five pounds or so. I think if you were to pay the recommended retail price, (I think thats about £9.99) then the lack of a booklet might be a little disappointing however, if youre interested in this movie, Id recommend shopping around as I think youd be able to get it fairly cheap.
The DVD itself comes on one disc, which also contains some Special Features, these are: -
- Complete Storyboards
- Interview with producer Toshio Suzuki
- Original Japanese Trailers
On top of these Special Features, the disc also allows you to play the movie with both the English soundtrack, with English subtitles for the hard of hearing, or alternatively play the original Japanese version, (which also features English subtitles).
I myself have always enjoyed watching these sort of animations in their native tongue, as often the English scripts are different to the script and the story is often changed. If youre interested in learning Japanese, this is also quite a useful means of hearing the language in its natural state, rather than the Received Pronunciation often encountered in books and tapes what youre taught and how the language is actually used can often be very different.
Navigating the disc is very simple, with the menus easily accessible and it is very easy to find your way around to the Special Features, or to change the language set-up, etc. Ive always found DVDs menus from the Studio Ghibli Collection to be of a high standard and Porco Rosso is no exception.
The special features arent really at that impressive to be honest. The interview with Toshio Suzuki is interesting, but very short. He says that this is the first movie by Hayao Miyazaki that was aimed more at adults than children, which I found a little surprising to be honest.
The storyboard feature is something that I occasionally find interesting as, although it is just rough sketches, it can often be insightful to see alternate angles, etc. that perhaps didnt make it into the final cut. For those people who enjoy this sort of thing, this is probably the best Special Feature on the disc.
Had I paid full price for this DVD, I think Id be a little disappointed by the amount of the Special Features. Having bought it at a reduced price I myself am not so bothered by the lack of features, as what is there is of a reasonable standard however, its worth baring in mind should you be tempted to pay full price for this disc.
Personally, I would say that Porco Rosso isnt the best Studio Ghibli movie Ive seen in terms of plot, but the animation is still enjoyable and the movie does have some interesting ideas, as well as being entertaining overall. I would recommend this to people who know they already enjoy Japanese animations, especially if youre a fan of Studio Ghibli in particular, but if youve never encountered this sort of thing before, or youve toyed with the idea of getting in the anime, but never actually watched any, then I think there are more captivating movies available, (such as Spirited Away or Princess Mononoke from Studio Ghibli alone) which would be a better introduction to the genre. Recommended, but not my first choice personally.
Porco Rosso (The Crimson Pig, 1992) ranks as Hayao Miyazaki's oddest film: a bittersweet period adventure about a dashing pilot who has somehow been turned into a pig. Miyazaki once said, "Initially, it was supposed to be a 45-minute film for tired businessmen to watch on long airplane flights... Why kids love it is a mystery to me." The early 1930s setting enabled Miyazaki to focus on the old airplanes he loves, and the film boasts complex and extremely effective aerial stunts and dogfights. In the new English dub from Disney, Michael Keaton as Porco delivers lines like "All middle-aged men are pigs" with appropriate cynicism, but his voice may be too familiar for some Miyazaki fans. Susan Egan makes a curiously distant Gina, the thrice-widowed hotel owner bound to Porco by years of friendship; Kimberly Williams is more effective as the irrepressible young engineer Fio. Porco Rosso may be an odd film, but Miyazaki's directorial imagination never flags.-- Charles Solomon