Porco Rosso

by Jake Mulligan

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Tuesday February 3, 2015

Porco Rosso

According to master filmmaker Hayao Miyazaki, his film "Porco Rosso -- out today on Blu-ray -- is not a children's film. At first, that seems surprising. This is, after all, a fable about an anthropomorphic pig trying to win the heart of his One True Love. But, true to Miyazaki's claim about the target audience, the narrative quickly turns dark, involving numerous traumas of the 20th century: The rise of fascism in Europe, the destruction, mental and physical, wrought by WWII, our collective inability to vanquish racist and sexist oppression. Miyazaki even takes time to snipe at celebrity culture.

When a character in an animated film is cursed to exist as an animal, it's usually to punish them for their own moral failings. But Porco, who was an Italian fighter pilot before his transformation into swine and now works independently as a bounty hunter -- much to the chagrin of his beloved Gina -- seems to be paying for the sins of the entire human race. He doesn't let it get him down. We meet him lounging on a beach, awaiting his next worthy assignment. And he spends a lot of time at the bar owned by Gina, where Miyazaki's jovial bounty hunters gather to drunkenly argue, challenge, and fight one another. There's political commentary and tragic underpinnings aplenty, but this is in the tradition of action films about battle tested men proving their toughness to one another -- it's in the tradition of "The Quiet Man" or "Only Angels Have Wings": Manly men, and one manly pig, doing manly things.

Disney's Blu-ray release of the film comes with the features we've come to expect from their Ghibli discs. There's a feature that looks at the production of the English dub, and another that speaks to Miyazaki's longtime producer. Additionally, there are trailers from the original release, and the original storyboarded (sketched and unfinished) version of the project. But the real selling point is the remastered visual presentation for the film. Miyazaki adapted "Porco" from a manga he drew himself in watercolor, and the impressionistic qualities of that format carry over: Bodies of water are rendered in an almost transparent blue, their slight ripples slowly folding over (in great contrast to the darkened, rough looking waves animators traditionally defer to); the wind and sky are drawn with comparable attention to subtle detail. In Miyazaki movies, even the weather is afforded artful nuance.

That's more important than it may sound, because "Porco Rosso" is -- along with "Kiki's Delivery Service," and "The Wind Rises" -- one of Miyazaki's films about flight. Almost the whole movie consists of off-coast adventure sequences. Extended scenes depict dogfights, midair chases, and crash landings. Even the film's knock-down drag-out fistfight finale takes place directly outside the cockpit, and within one foot of water. Such an evasively toned film: It may not be for kids, and the political commentary is nearly explicit, but it resembles fast-paced classical adventure movies -- the likes of Errol Flynn, or Douglas Fairbanks -- more than anything else. This is Ghibli's grand romantic romp.

"Porco Rosso"

Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack