It is 1929; the Adriatic Sea is a common area for pilots, including sea pirates. The only pilot in that part of the ocean that keeps the sea pirates under control, whether they like it or not, is a bounty hunter named “Porco Rosso”, a former World War I pilot who left the Italian Air Force because of their fascist ways. Because he became disillusioned with humanity, he was cursed to take the appearance of a pig. Porco’s bounty hunting days are now hanging in the balance when an American pilot by the name of Donald Curtis joins the side of the sea pirates to take him down. Along with his relationship with his long-time friend Gina, and a young engineer Fio, as well as the Italian government on his back, Porco needs to find out how many flying days he has left, and whether he can understand if it is good to be human.
The day after Only Yesterday was released; Hayao Miyazaki immediately began his next film. An agreement was made with Japan Airlines to create a 30-45 minute animated film to be shown in flights on the airline. Hayao Miyazaki wanted to make “a film which tired businessmen on international flights can enjoy, even with their minds dulled due to lack of oxygen.”, since his first major interest was on air planes (which he has had since childhood), he decided to make the film based on the manga “The Age of the Flying Boat”, which he wrote back in 1990 for a scale model magazine. His imagination expanded so much that the short film became a 1 ½ hour feature film, with characters being more fleshed out than in the manga. It was released on July 18th 1992, Japan Airlines was still interested in releasing it as an in-flight film, so Studio Ghibli had a text introduction written in ten languages, and Tokuma hired studios to dub it into other languages including English, French, Spanish and Portuguese.
The animation is good for Studio Ghibli’s standards, but it doesn’t look at all impressive when I watched it, there are a few scenes where effort is put in but this is definitely not an anime film to watch for its animation. I do give credit to the film’s animators though, there are some great scenes that show large groups of people, not one either looks alike, doing the exact same actions or just stays in one spot, each member of this crowd scene is truly individual and to me, that is great animation.
The art style is surprisingly similar to Kiki’s Delivery Service, which is weird because these are completely different films. So it’s bright and colourful, and there is a sense of realism, instead some of the scenes are based on a real-life city of Milan. The film is also a homage to classic fighter planes, so the design of each plane is taken into great lengths to ensure that the designs are accurate to the originals, when I researched and compared them to the real planes, thought they were pretty accurate, though if you know a lot about classic air planes you’ll probably spot errors, which makes the film all the more fun for you.
Unfortunately this film has a good but forgettable soundtrack, the only track that is memorable is the main theme, a French song called “Le Temps de Cerises” (The Time of Cherries), which the composer Joe Hisaishi didn’t write or compose. Despite that it is a very good song, the performance was simple and beautiful to listen to, the song itself suits Porco’s character (it’s about the Paris Commune, and the loss of life in the days that are gone), and it is sung by the actress of Gina herself, Tokiko Kato, and it is kept in every version of the film. The other tracks vary from the slight comic-relief for the bumbling sea pirates to dramatic and fast paced for most of the air battle scenes.
What makes this film’s voice acting so interesting is that I don’t know what dub is superior. Since the film was made for international audiences there has been a divide on what version is the most superior. While I do like the Japanese dub, with Shuichiro Moriyama giving an old and low-pitched voice for Porco and Tokiko Kato giving a calm classic style singer voice for Gina, and the English dub by Disney really does a good job keeping the original style of the Japanese performances with English actors, including the most notable being Michael Keaton as Porco. However from my research, a lot of people, including Hayao Miyazaki himself, believe the French dub, with Jean Reno as Porco, is the most superior dub. I have watched a clip of it, and it’s good even for a French dub, but I still prefer the Japanese and English dub
The one thing that this film is worth watching for is its story, it is part action, part romance and part drama with a little pinch of comedy. There is some really good character development between Porco and Gina, each having one very good scene together, with Porco talking about a moment in his past being very calm and eerie, although whoever they cast as Porco from the past in the Japanese version deserves way more credit than a younger sounding Michael Keaton, his performance is excellent and drives the scene brilliantly. However, if there was anything to take back after watching this it isn’t really Porco and Gina, but the large family team consisting entirely of women that help Porco rebuild his plane. Because all the men in the family moved to the larger cities to get jobs, all of the women are the only people to help, with a 16 year old Fio being the plane’s engineer. While Porco is reluctant to all of this, after seeing how dedicated all of them work, he changes his mind and is proud of what they’ve done, yes it is a feminist scene but unless you are sexist, the entire act that it takes place will probably be the most memorable scene in the entire film. If I did had to nit-pick and create some spoilers then my only problem is the ending, since there is very little change to any of the characters, it pulls of a really silly cliché for a serious film and it just ends on a monologue that really states the obvious. But overall, Porco Rosso is a very nice and moving romance with a lot of heart put into it, very memorable scenes and very good characters which lead an impression, no matter what language you watch it in.
Porco Rosso is available from Walt Disney and Optimum releasing. The original manga written by Hayao Miyazaki titled “The Age of the Flying Boat” was translated by Matt Thorn and was published in Animerica Magazine, but it’s still available (in some form) by Viz Media. In a September 2010 interview, Hayao Miyazaki mentioned one future film idea he has being a follow up story called “Porco Rosso: The Last Sortie” which would possibly be set in the Spanish Civil War period, although whether it will actually be made will be up to Studio Ghibli on a whole.