Porco Rosso is a veteran WWI fighter pilot turned bounty hunter, who has been transformed into an anthropomorphic pig through a rare curse. He was once known as Marco Pagot while still in his human form, but took up a new alias which suits his current image better, "Red Pig."
At the beginning of Kurenai no Buta, Porco is reunited with his long-time friend Gina at a hotel, and unexpectedly falls in love with her. Despite his strange form, Gina shows him all the affection that she can muster. But Porco has a love rival to deal with. An American ace fighter named Curtis is also after Gina's heart, and although she rejects his proposals, he is not about to let her go so easily. During his return flight to Milan, Curtis sneaks up behind Porco's plane and shoots him down. The plane is completely destroyed and Porco is proclaimed dead, but due to a stroke of luck, he barely managed to survive the crash, unbeknownst to others.
Porco must now continue his journey back by train, and suddenly discovers that there has been a warrant issued for his arrest in Italy. Not only does he need to find Gina, but he must also get his revenge and also deal with the oncoming war that threatens the whole of Europe.
Miyazaki movies can broadly fall in 2 or 3 categories; some of them are driven by their uncanny and bizarre plot (princess mononoke, spirited away etc). And then there are some where the direction almost completely overshadows the plot-line. Like Totoro, Porco Rosso falls in the latter category. From the opening scene to ending, this movie is all about direction, direction and direction.
The movie, set in the 1930’s, starts on a deserted island which acts as a hideout for the famous war-veteran turned bounty hunter ace pilot known as porco rosso (scarlet pig) who, we soon learn,
has been afflicted by a curse which turned him into a pig. Just knowing this much can give you a false impression that this movie, like most miyazaki movies, has a lot to do with the mystical or the supernatural, but nothing can be further from the truth. Our ‘manly’ protagonist is a pig for a reason, but that reason has little to do with magic. The movie follows the scarlet pigs journey to reclaim his honor, after being 'shot down' by an American mercenary. For the most part, its a comedy drama with sprinkles of romance and slice-of-life
As the movie progresses, we learn more about the scarlet pig and some of his background. Eventually we get to the reason of his current predicament. There is a strong lesson to learn here, and thankfully it’s not force-fed into your head like Disney does with some of its movies. Here, the message is subtler and yet strikes a stronger chord.
‘Porco Rosso’ is different from miyazaki’s other endeavors. For one, it has a lot more comedy in it, and this aspect is amplified by the comical and, sometimes, witty dialogue. The humor is in-your-face laugh-out-loud funny, filled with wise-cracks, puns and word-play. And the concept of a man-turned-pig ace pilot flying the skies of a fictional Europe dueling pirates and an arch-nemesis from America is not something you’ll find in every anime.
Speaking of arch-nemesis, this movie has a really good one in the form of Donald Curtis, a notorious womanizer, and an over-confident and pompous, yet funny and very likable American, who also happens to be Porco’s rival in lurrve. Two of the funniest sequences of this comedy ride are his ‘encounters’ with porco in the skies. Characters in general have been done very well, with each of them lending to the comical aspect of the movie really well.
The airplane designs and all the flying sequences are really good. Some of the flying sequences are especially enthralling- not in the eye-candy sense, but it’s just that they’ve been done so well that it feels like whoever did it must be in love with airplanes and flying in general. In fact, a good part of Miyazaki’s early life was spent drawing battleships and airplanes. That life-long fascination of his mirrors very well throughout his works, especially this movie.
The premise and the post WWI European setting gives a very unique and exquisite feeling to the movie; and this fact is reflected well in the artwork, with its lush sceneries, views of exotic islands and beaches, cities and some of the characters, especially the pirates, which really do look like something from cartoony Europe of the 30’s. The leader of the pirates, for one, can pass for a Bluto (from Popeye) look-alike. For the most part, the miyazaki like feeling is intact. The animation is just gorgeous for a movie made in 1992. The color palate is exceptionally vibrant and has a certain depth to it that Miyazaki fans have come to associate with his movies.
The music is vintage Hisashi joe; fans of the maestro will find some of his best tunes in this movie. The animation and music blend perfectly to evoke the right emotion at the right time, bringing to life the world of Porco Rosso while lending it a unique charm that you probably won’t see in any other anime movie. Disney’s dubbed version has excellent voice-overs that fit perfectly with each character’s personality. I find that the Disney version does not deserve the hate that it is often subjected to by the fans of the older pre-Disney dub versions.
However, there are two things that might put-off people. The first is the minimalistic approach to storyline. Plot-junkies who expect their animes to be filled with deep and complicated plots might not find this to their liking (I’ve heard a few complain about this). But if you like Miyazaki movies in general, you’d know that complaint is baseless. With Porco Rosso, everything might be charming and simple on the outside but there’s more to this movie than meets the eye. The second complaint, which is actually a little more common, is that the ending is too abrupt. The ending is a bit subtle, yes, and it may leave a you wishing there was more, but the movie manages to tie all the loose ends very well, and it is by no standards an unsatisfactory ending. Porco Rosso is more like an old friend from a long forgotten time who stops by your front door to have a nice cup of tea, has a warm and pleasant chat with you but then quietly leaves from the back door with a quick goodbye.
Thanks to Miyazaki’s captivating direction, the movie is very soothing and peaceful and I think its best watched at the end of a hard and tiresome day, when you want to watch something calm and relaxing. All in all, Porco Rosso is a unique movie; not just as miyazaki or a Ghibli film, but a unique anime movie.
"Porco Rosso" is a striking rarity in the Miyazaki career, and one that will probably require a bigger effort from the fans to understand. It plays with different themes than his other works; for instance, there is not an interest on developing an enviromental message, or at depicting a major conflict involving humanity and nature. The story is closer to the coming-of-age intimism of "Spirited away", "My neighbor Totoro" or -his script- "Whisper of the heart", yet it takes a radically different focus. In fact, if I had to point a similarity among his films, the one that fits better to me is "Lupin III:
The castle of Cagliostro".
On the other hand it is unique because of the world it builds around. Any fans of classic Hollywood will be pleased at the amount of homages that are spread through the story, both in individual scenes and in tone. This movie holds many similarities in its more dramatic part, both aesthetical and story-based, with "Casablanca"; and the slapstick comedy that is there through the whole storyline, softening the conflicts and relationships of the characters, resembles "The quiet man".
This polarity between a heavy character drama and a dreamy comedy may be a double-edged sword, in the sense that many people will probably find this movie inconsistant in terms of its mood, but I think "Porco Rosso" does a really fine work at balancing both aspects of its storyline. The comedy never disallows the viewer from appreciating the gravity of Porco as a character, and the serious and intimist sequences don't deny the zaniness of his daily life. The best thing about this is that it allows to create a full dramatic portrayal of the main character, while bringing some kind of fabulistic charm to his lifestyle, which gives nostalgic vibes to the story. This ends up being relevant as well in the romantic view that Miyazaki brings to describe one of his childhood passions, flight engineery. In this movie it becomes completely obvious through the careful visual depiction and the spectacularity of the flying scenes.
The storyline is completely focused on Porco and the universe around him. He is definitely a complex character that goes way beyond his main defining trait. In fact, his aspect in the context of the daily relationships it's the least relevant. We are told that he is a human turned into a pig by some sort of mysterious spell, but those around him still recognize Porco as a human. Even Gina, the one that he's most closely related with, treats him as if he was the same as always. The appearances in this movie are brought for a much less superficial purpose, as this transformation is used as a metaphor for the deep wound Porco carries with humanity in general, and with himself. His bitterness, however, is contrasted in the movie. That is, instead of being exaggerated, and giving rise to an overly cynical character, the story also emphasizes on his caring side. He is shown to have friends, understand their emotions and care for them; his scenes with Gina make clear that they love and respect each other. This side of him is emphasized later with the presence of Fio and the clear effect she has in his growth as a character.
The rest of the characters, while not being as fleshed out as Porco, still hold their own charm. I am specially fascinated with Gina. She doesn't even appear too often in the story but her elegance and intimist approach increase the emotional effect of every scene she's in, and the hints on her own past are so suggestive and enveloping that, despite the lack of physical presence in the plot, she manages to create a very strong emotional involvement around her. She is there in some of the most moving moments of the story and I'm specially fond of one where a flashback of her past with Porco is shown.
Fio, on the other hand, plays the counterpart of Porco as a quick-witted and joyful girl. This simple purpose is actually conveyed in the form of a very strong and charismatic character. Her chemistry with Porco through their scenes is amazing, and another one of the key points of this story. In fact my favorite scene of the movie involves them both; with Porco narrating a defining experience of his past -in his very own way, though- and Fio hearing this whole story completely captivated, understanding, finally, the dimension of his personal conflict as a whole.
Donald Curtis and the pirates, despite being technically the antagonists of the main story, are actually quite light and charming. The arrogance of Curtis is contextualized in a way that emphasizes on his innocence rather than on an actual malice. And similarly, the pirates never come off as evil and their hate towards Porco is never treated seriously.
On the artistic level, this is a great effort overall, though probably not as satisfying as other Miyazaki movies. For example, it suffers from a lack of shading in many scenes, and the designs of the background characters don't look very inspired. However, it still keeps a lot of strength in the visual depiction of the scenarios, and places like Porco's lonely island or Gina's bar are given a distinct atmosphere that becomes very effective. The design for the main characters is simple, yet very effective, with Porco being the obvious choice as the most outstanding. The aesthetics, as said, are very closely tied to the imagery of classic films, which sort of fit very well with the Italian environment of the late 20s this movie is located at.
Similarly, the soundtrack is quite outstanding overall but not as consistantly mesmerizing as in other works of the author. Then again, this is not a very relevant issue, and I guess it has to do with the huge variety of music pieces; as this variety leading to some irregularity seems unavoidable. Anyway, if I have to choose one, it would be Tokiko Kato's version of the French Revolutionary song "Le temps des cérises", that serves to introduce Gina. Her song in the ending credits is equally beautiful.
All in all, and while it's not my favorite, it is still a Ghibli and Miyazaki movie I am very fond of. It is a little tricky to recommend here, though, because its style and themes will probably not fit the tastes of an anime fan if they are mainly interested on exploring the imagery and philosophy that are associated with the Japanese culture; in fact, I think that "Porco Rosso" is a better recommendation for movie-goers than for anime fans, in general. That doesn't mean it will be necessarily less enjoyable, but it's more likely for people with a grown interest on Western filmmaking to find points in common with this movie.
Porco Rosso, in my mind it is one of Miyazaki's finest works. It doesn't contain many of the many annoying story points that plague much of his other work.
Story: The Red Pig, or The Scarlet Pig, whichever sub you choose. I found the story quite entertaining, deep on alot of levels. If you want it to be a kid's story, then it's a kid's story that you don't have to think twice about. But if you really look at it, during WWII and the alliances and what exactly Porco Rosso is doing then you really add another layer to
this animation. I found the love story in this also quite endearing, when it comes to alot of Miyazaki's work the romance never really goes anywhere and is quite childish. The romance in this is also slightly childish but it really works. The story never seems forced and goes at quite a nice pace as well.
Art: Ghibli....They really are my bane when it comes to animation. I find their art very ugly, their reuse of characters makes them terrible in my book. Many of their people look exactly the same in every movie and they don't make a conscious effort to improve their craft. You will never however, see another Porco, and his design I quite enjoyed. The rest of the characters dont' stick in my mind at all.
Sound: Old. The sound effects and music used are quite dated, but the movie itself is dated so it altogether works out quite nicely. Some of the sound effects made me laugh, they're incredibly old, but again, they really work for the mood of the film.
Character: Nothing incredibly outstanding. The subtle charm of these characters is something you really have to see. They seem shallow, and some of them are, but there is a level deeper to them, and this, to me, is Miyazaki's greatest achievement with this film. The movie doesn't really allow for a lot of evolution with the characters, but the way their history is revealed is quite cute.
Enjoyment: I love this movie. There were a few boring parts here and there, but all in all the movie is amazing. This definitely has the magic that people who rave about Miyazaki keep raving about. It's here, and if he wasn't directing this film it would have turned out terribly, if you've never seen a Miyazaki film before, or love him without knowing why you do, definitely watch this film, because most likely you'll find out.
This shit right here is what you call a good fucking movie. And one more thing i gotta say, pigs can fly. Yes, you heard me, if anyone says different put them in a arm-bar and make them beg for mercy; because they just told a lie straight to your face.
Now, Porco Rosso is a very badass movie, its smooth, it's underrated and its ice-cold. The movie takes place during WWI and it features one of Ghiblis best characters, my nigga the pig.
Porco is the biggest pimp okay, he will roast you, he will whoop your ass whether it comes to
flying or even boxing matches on water, and most importantly he gets all the bitches. He shows his testosterone fueled manliness in a different way.
Yes, with his Al Capone pimp-swagger, there ain't no hoes that can resist him.
The music? Do i even have to say anything other than give that nigga Joe Hisaishi a raise for these fine pieces of music. He constantly hits it out of the park. This is the kind of music you want to play when you're in one of those expensive Italian restaurants eating your spaghetti n cheese.
Oh did i mention that he's Italian?
The art is fine, like in every other Miyazaki film. So nothing special to write home about here.
Oh yeah um, why is he a pig? Well, you that nigga Miyazaki always with the curses n' shit. Bla, Bla, Bla, who cares about the story and that when you got the greatest anime pimp for a main character!
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