The odd rules at work in the films of Hayao Miyazaki are largely why his movies standout as so unique. This strange sense of reality is at once supernatural and yet highly believable, and lends the films the air of fantasy colliding with reality that is the trademark of his work.
Porco Rosso is no different. The main character, at one time named “Marco” but now named “Porco”, is an italian pilot who has been turned into a pig. When asked why he was turned into a pig his reply is simply that “All middle-aged men are pigs.” But let’s just ignore the obvious “when pigs fly” puns that could be thrown around.
Porco Rosso is such a freakin’ fun movie it’s ridiculous. Originally envisioned as a thirty-minute in-flight movie for Japanese airlines, the Miyazaki tale kept growing and growing until it became this very interesting film about war, honor, and flying. Some have remarked that the film seems a bit frothy and lacking in substance, but this misses the point: we must remember that this film was intended to be “a fun movie for middle-aged businessmen whose brains became tofu from overwork.”
Therefore, the plot of Porco Rosso is light in the deep philosophical conflict found in other Miyazaki films, and instead focuses on a love-triangle between Porco, an American pilot named Curtis, and a woman bar-owner named Gina. But even this love-triangle is left undeveloped too much because Gina is very clear, even early on, that she loves Porco Rosso and no one else.
I find Miyazaki’s use of conflict between characters fascinating, by the way, sometimes he has a clearly defined villain (Castle of Cagliostro, Castle in the Sky, Princess Mononoke) and other times the line between hero and villain is blurred (Nausicaa, Ponyo) or the “villain” archetype is completely lacking (My Neighbor Totoro, Kiki’s Delivery Service). In Porco Rosso we find Miyazaki blurring the lines and depicting even the nefarious seaplane pirates in a likable fashion. Meanwhile the antagonist (and I use the term lightly) found in the American pilot Curtis, is clearly a swashbuckler of the Errol Flynn mold.
If Porco Rosso isn’t Miyazaki’s most in-depth movie, it is one of his most involving. Porco is such a likable character and the cast of characters surrounding him, such as the young Fio who rebuilds his plane, all play against Porco’s sensibilities and personality in a very satisfying way. Porco is a pig set in his ways, and Miyazaki constantly finds new ways to upset Porco’s world and force him into action.
I’ve not even discussed the flying, which is a visual treat here unlike any of the previous films in Miyazaki’s body of work. Every single frame of a plane zipping through the air (or across the water), whether it be general flight or a dogfight, is a marvel to behold and watch. This film makes it very clear that Miyazaki has a fondness, not just of flight in general, but of planes and how they work.
I might give my right arm to have half of this man’s imagination.