Porco Rosso


Reviewed by: Anton Bitel

Marco Rosselini, aka Porco Rosso, was once an ace fighter pilot during The Great War. Now portly and middle-aged, he works alone as a freelance bounty hunter, protecting the sea lanes of the Adriatic from air piracy, while evading capture by the Italian Air Force, from which he has deserted. He is also, almost incidentally but nonetheless quite literally, a pig - even if he started out human.

Fed up with being outsmarted and out flown by Porco, the pirates contract an ambitious and amoral American ace, named Donald Curtis, to blow the pig and his seaplane out of the skies. Porco must come out of his own self-imposed exile and accept the help of his old flame Gina and his new young engineer Fio, in order to stay ahead of the Fascists, keep Curtis in his sights, save his bacon and rediscover his own long lost humanity.

Porco Rosso plays like an animated prequel to Casablanca. The emerging Italian Fascists stand in for the Nazis, Gina's resolutely neutral Hotel Adriano doubles as the Cafe Americain and the pirates, whose criminality seems strangely innocent compared to the more organised thuggery rising to power on the mainland, are like Casablanca's underworld of black marketers, thieves and profiteers. At the centre of it all, filling in for Humphrey Bogart's Rick, is Porco himself - ugly, gruff and cynical on the outside, but all decency, chivalry and heart underneath.

The main character may be that ultimate emblem of fantasy, a flying pig, but Hayao Miyazaki keeps his fiction grounded in a place and a period that is all too real - the Mediterranean of the interbellum years. Even if the characters are larger than life, Miyazaki is meticulous in recreating period detail and never allows the physics of his aerial dogfights to go beyond what it was possible for the hand-cranked, wood-framed planes of the day to achieve, so that the film becomes less a magical fantasy than a nostalgic adventure romance. The only truly supernatural elements are the porcine features of its hero, but they are understated, rather than grotesque, and have a clear symbolic function, serving not merely to reflect the dehumanising effects of aging, masculinity and war (especially war), but also to refract the far greater bestiality of the other men around Porco, be they unwashed pirates, power-hungry nationalists, or interfering Americans.

Porco Rosso has a strong internationalist outlook, typified by its European locations and the complete absence of any Japanese characters, but perhaps more notable are its many digs, however gentle, at American showboating, American superficiality and, more particularly, the black-and-white ideology of America's greatest animator Walt Disney, with whom Miyazaki is often compared.

"Man, this movie stinks!", Porco comments as he watches what is clearly an old Disney anime, featuring a villainous flying pig. Porco's good-natured companion Ferrari disagrees, but one is left to wonder whether his tastes might be related to his conscious rise through the ranks of the nationalist Italian Air Force. As Porco tells him, "I'd rather be a pig than a Fascist."

With its combination of exquisite animation, (slyly subverted) Boys Own action, and (barely concealed) adult themes, Porco Rosso goes the whole hog, offering anti-war escapades that will appeal to all ages.

Reviewed on: 02 Feb 2006
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Anime adventures of a flying pig, Italian Fascists, pirates and an American contract killer between the wars in Europe.
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Director: Hayao Miyazaki

Writer: Hayao Miyazaki, with English adaptation by Cindy Davis Hewitt and Donald H Hewitt

Starring: voices of Shuichiro Moriyama, Tokiho Kato, Sanshi Katsura, Tsunehiko Komijo, Akemi Okamura, Akio Otsuka, Hiroko Seki

Year: 1992

Runtime: 94 minutes

BBFC: PG - Parental Guidance

Country: Japan


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