by HELEN GEIB
Porco Rosso is an anime feature film by writer-director Hayao Miyazaki with the unexpected setting of the Adriatic Sea c. 1930. The film’s hero Porco Rosso is a WWI Italian flying ace in self-imposed exile from his homeland. He lives in a tent on an idyllic secluded beach that he reaches in his seaplane; a generator-powered radio is his only contact with the outside world. He makes his living, such as it is, from apprehending seaplane-borne “air pirates” for the reward money. Most of the money goes toward supplies and repairs for the plane.
“Porco Rosso” is Italian for red pig. The “red” is a reference to Porco’s legendary bright red plane. The “porco” is because Porco has the snout, ears, and general dumpiness of a pig. He transformed into his current pig-like state sometime after the war. We don’t learn exactly when, but it was long enough ago that he’s now known as Porco Rosso throughout the Adriatic. The only person who still calls him by his given name of Marco is Gina, an old friend and three-time widow (of Porco’s aviator buddies). Now Gina is the chanteuse of her own establishment, an island hotel, nightclub, and favorite watering hole of sea- and air-faring bounty hunters, pirates, and civilians alike.
Along with when, we never learn just exactly how or why Marco turned into Porco; we infer divine punishment – or a cosmic joke – because he turned his back on humanity after the war. An arrogant American flyboy hired by the pirates to get rid of Porco is the unwitting catalyst for change. Curtiss is not nearly so bad a fellow as he first appears and ultimately speaks some home truths to Porco, but his most significant act is to shoot up Porco’s seaplane and force him to take it to Milan for repairs. It is in Milan that Porco meets Fio, a precocious airplane engineer and mechanic who disrupts his routine, reminds him that there are a lot of good people in the world, and perhaps most importantly, reminds him of himself when he was her age: passionate about flying and excited about life.
For all the many things going on in Porco Rosso, the film’s most important element may be the love of flight. All the pilots seem to take to the air for the love of it, even the pirates (piracy in this place is no more lucrative or profitable than bounty hunting). The movie is filled with gorgeous flying sequences: at sunrise and sunset; through storm clouds and under clear skies; over the ocean and skimming a river (and ducking under its bridges); for pleasure, travel, and commerce, licit and illicit. A poignant sequence when Porco tells Fio about a wartime vision of fighter pilots from all nations, including his own lost squadron, flying to the next world in a white ribbon across the clear blue sky is haunting and beautiful.
It’s also a rare serious moment. Despite the film’s weighty themes, Miyazaki keeps the tone lighthearted and warm. The film is filled with comedy, from Porco’s intrinsically funny appearance to the buffoonish pirates to the many sight gags and puns. The plot moves at a rapid clip and a good joke is never far away. The humor combines with the appealing cast of characters to make Porco Rosso a lively and completely delightful film.
Review Series – Directed by Hayao Miyazaki
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