I have been meaning to do a series of posts based on the Studio Ghibli films that I have watched. I did write such a post to start the series off, only to realise that it was 5 years ago. I’ll try not to wait for another five years before I write the next post! This second post will be on Porco Rosso as opposed to the promised Laputa – Castle in the Sky.

Porco Rosso (紅の豚 – Kurenai no buta, lit. crimson pig) is a Miyazaki Hayao-helmed film released in 1992. I can’t remember when I first watched this film but I only watched it when I was building my Studio Ghibli blu ray collection.

The premise of the story is pretty simple which is about an Italian ex-WWI pilot called Porco (previously Marco) now turned bounty hunter who is cursed to look like a pig. Porco would occasionally spend some time at this island hotel run by his childhood friend named Gina (there is some history in this friendship but we will talk about it later), but otherwise lives in his hideaway island with a cove away from plain sight as he is wanted by the Italian (then fascist) government. Midway in the film, Porco’s plane was shot down by a flamboyant American flyboy named Curtiss. Porco then brought the remaining fuselage of his plane to Milan to have it remade, with a design improvement thanks to Fio, the grand-daughter of the Piccolo spa plane company owner. With his new plane and with Fio in tow, Porco is off to face Curtiss once again.

Like any Miyazaki film, Porco Rosso is an absolute delight on many fronts. The story as I mentioned isn’t too complicated but touches on issues of humanity’s foibles in the face of adversity, in this case, Porco’s indignation at the fate of his perished comrades during an air battle with the Austro-Hungarians when he alone survived. What made it worse was that one of the perished airmen was his friend whose wedding to Gina was only a few days prior to said battle. “It should have been me” was pretty much Porco’s feelings were at that time. Gina on the other hand has a weakness for pilots, and during one scene, she told Porco that the remains of her pilot husband from her third marriage was found. The waiting was likely devastating for her, as she remarked “I waited three years. I’ve got no tears left” when the news of the discovery finally came.

The actual reason why Porco having porcine facial features was never fully explained. Gina mentioned a curse, perhaps a result of the aforementioned indignation after the loss of his comrades. I did wonder initially if the appearance of him as a pig is merely metaphorical – he would self deprecate by making remarks about him being a pig. However, the fact that the other characters (namely Fio and later, Curtiss) being surprised when seeing (did they?) him in his human form meant the physical change is likely real.

The other facet of the film that is of interest are the varied characters. Fio Piccolo may only appear from the second act onwards but her role is vital in perhaps changing Porco’s viewpoint of the world. After reluctantly agreeing to her designing his airplane, Fio’s insistence of joining him on the plane to the showdown at the Adriatic Sea bore fruit as it was she that managed to persuade the seaplane pirates to agree to let Porco face Curtiss, when all the pirates wanted to do was kill Porco (Porco’s bounty hunting targets tend to be the seaplane pirates although if you watch the film, Porco’s got heart). Donald Curtiss, the American pilot is another well written character, whose heart is set on Hollywood and the US Presidency (despite his Clark Gable-esque features, Ronald Reagan, anyone?), at the same time attempting to woo Gina and then Fio to be his wife.

The third aspect of the film that I love is Joe Hisaishi‘s unmistakable score, which never disappoints. If you think there will be a lot of Italian flavour in the score, you may be disappointed as it is pretty subtle. While mainly orchestral, his signature piano is almost always at the forefront. My favourite piece is the one in the end credits sung by Kato Tokiko, who also voiced Gina, called 時には昔の話を (Toki ni wa mukashi no hanashi wo, or Let’s Talk About the Old Times).

I recently watched a YouTube podcast discussing Porco Rosso where one of the panel had read that Miyazaki’s favourite dub of the film was the French version, with Jean Reno voicing Porco (Michael Keaton does the English version). Two nights ago, I did just that as I noticed that Netflix’s audio choice included French. It might not seem intuitive to watch an Italian tale in French but it worked. Watching it in Japanese (my preferred language when it comes to anime) is pretty much the same if you think about it.

Highly recommended, I’d say. As for my next Studio Ghibli write up, I haven’t decided on which film to watch yet. In case I might change my mind again.