Reviews

Dec 6, 2013
jal90 (All reviews)
"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.