Of all films that emerged from Hayao Miyazaki’s illustrious career, only a few of them are particularly well-known in Britain’s public consciousness, which is quite sad because some of the lesser known films are brilliant (such as The Cat Returns for example). Porco Rosso, while not as good as some of those films, certainly displays its own unique quality. The film itself calls back to the early days of aviation, which, for me, enters the same territory that would later be explored by Miyazaki’s swan song The Wind Rises. Perhaps that’s because I saw that movie first. However, there are very stark differences between the two. The Wind Rises had a distinctly romantic view of its subject matter, while this film centres on a decidedly more down-to-earth protagonist.
In the film, Porco Rosso is presented as a former ace pilot who shoots down pirates for pay, but he is clearly not without a moral compass. In fact, as the film develops, Porco Rosso develops as a multi-faceted character, and a rather likable one as well, mainly because in spite of being literally and metaphorically a pig, he doesn’t act like one in the strictest sense. The plot is quite well told, and you can get the sense of the interactions with the other characters informing Porco’s own perspective. However, I feel that the story ended rather abruptly, as though Porco’s story hadn’t quite finished yet. Instead, the film closes with one of the other characters narrating from her point of view, and we don’t even see those events taking place at all. Also, the film never really explains how the main character was cursed to look a pig, why he was cursed to begin, and how he’s supposed to lift that curse. It’s hinted at, but with no real explanation. Of course, I may just be nitpicking, but those details matter just as much as the substance does.
The characters themselves make the film a lively experience, and they certainly give the film a sense of humour on plenty of occasions. The wonderful thing about it is that it’s not too serious, but it’s not too comical either. The film also seems to be fond of the empowering picture of women at work, with one of the film’s central characters eager to prove herself capable. It seems to be a recurring trend in Miyazaki’s films, and I think that sends a very positive message compared to the likes of Disney, whose view of women seems stuck in the Victorian age. For the English dub of the film, they picked a spectacular cast, with Michael Keaton (of Beetlejuice fame) providing the voice of the main character. It’s a little unrealistic, but I’ll let it slide because his acting in this film is quite magnetic.
As finessed as the acting gets in this film, we can always count on the skill of the animation team at Studio Ghibli, who take animation and turn it into what might as well be fine art, and this comes into good effect with the stylish dogfights that take place throughout the film. It’s no classic, but I think it’s a real shame that this film is overlooked so often. It’s a wonderful film with real character, and even if there are things you could nitpick at, I could easily look past that, especially because the film actually delivers on the sense of freedom, flight and adventure.
- Score: 84%
- Grade: B