With prices for cinema tickets now reaching ridiculous heights it’s not often I will treat myself to a new release unless it’s something I simply cannot wait for. Instead, I’m happy to content myself with a cheap DVD or a film on TV which may have slipped through my critical net and, believe me, there have been far too many. Whether the films featured here are recent or old I’ll still be providing my honest opinion on them and, with the benefit of hindsight in many cases, may offer a slightly different take to contemporary reviewers.
Porco Rosso (1992)
Many of you will have heard the expression “when pigs fly” said in response to a seemingly impossible claim but in Hayao Miyazaki’s 1992 anime hit, Porco Rosso, we have a pig that flies in the form of piloting a plane. I’m slowly ticking off Studio Ghibli’s list of impressive films with only Ponyo (2008) being a disappointment to me thus far. I was intrigued by the concept of Porco Rosso so tuned my brain into aviation mode and delved in.
Porco Rosso is set around islands in the Adriatic Sea in the 1930s where pirates in planes operate but whenever they obtaining booty or hostages they always have one nervous eye on the skies. A former pilot in the Italian Air Force, Porco Rosso (Crimson Pig in Japan) plies his trade in the Adriatic Sea by regular tussles with the neighbouring pirates. Porco is more than just another pilot, having once been human but now having the face of a pig from a curse whose origins are never fully explained. A brilliant pilot, Porco Rosso’s expertise in aviation cannot match his personal life where he enjoys a tender friendship with Gina, who runs the Hotel Adriano, a favourite hangout for pirates and sea pilots alike. Porco faces a big threat to his career in the form of an outspoken American pilot, Curtis, who witnesses Porco’s plane crash but believes he has shot him down and killed him. Truth be told, Porco’s plane is simply battered and old and his encounter with Curtis comes as he is steering his wounded plane to Milan for repairs but the engine gives in. With the Great Depression in the ascendancy Porco is left with a girl, Fio, as the only mechanic of any note to work on his plane. Porco must get his plane repaired quickly and return to the Adriatic Sea where a duel with Curtis awaits.
Porco Rosso opens quickly with our hero relaxing on a secluded island before receiving radio contact of a pirate attack against a ship where a group of schoolgirls have been abducted. Porco sets out to face the pirates, who are having a torrid time keeping the girls under control, before intercepting and damaging their plane. Though taking his role as a bounty hunter seriously, Porco is a reasonable and fair opponent, allowing the pirates to retain some of their booty for repairs while he takes charge of the schoolgirls and immediately regrets it as they explore his plane and are simply incontrollable! When not flying throughout the Adriatic Sea, Porco heads for the Hotel Adriano where he keeps to himself, only opening up to the owner, Gina. Both have a complex history with Gina widowed when her husband, Bellini (Porco’s best friend and a fellow pilot), was killed in the First World War. Bellini’s death also gives rise to Porco, then known as Marco Rossolini, becoming a pig. There is clearly mutual affection between Porco and Gina but both hold back with Porco in particular having a very reserved demeanour.
The arrival of the cocky Curtis shatters Porco’s peaceful idyll on the Adriatic Sea. The American pilot is boastful not just of his flying prowess but of his impending future as a Hollywood star. He is immediately drawn to Gina and even asks her to return to Hollywood with him and become a star in her own right through her singing. Gina is not so easily wooed, however, for her heart belongs in the Adriatic Sea and she informs Curtis during a meeting between the two in her garden that she is waiting for someone to meet her there. She makes no secret that it is Porco she hopes will come to the garden one day but until now he never has! Curtis is unimpressed by the legendary Porco and is only too happy to take the plaudits when he believes he has shot the pig down and killed him. With his rival out of the way Curtis is able to focus on Gina.
Porco’s time in Milan getting his plane repaired sees him make a good friend in Fio though he initially has reservations about a girl doing any work on his plane. Fio turns out to be a brilliant mechanic, her boundless energy initially too much for Porco, who is reluctant to take the girl back to the Adriatic Sea but she simply won’t allow him to refuse. With his plane repaired all that is left is for Porco and Curtis to have a duel and see which of them is the better pilot. It’s an exciting set piece as the two opponents take to the skies and begin opening fire on each other, though Porco’s stance of not firing at an opponent if there is a risk of hitting the pilot puts him at a disadvantage. The stakes are also high as well with both pilots having a lot to lose should they suffer defeat. Who wins the duel? Do Porco and Gina get together in the end? Is the Crimson Pig shot down for the last time? All good questions but you won’t find the answers here, faithful readers.
Porco Rosso is another entertaining feature from anime maestro, Hayao Miyazaki, with the running time of 90 minutes being my only major complaint. While not having the same magical essence as say My Neighbour Totoro (1988) or Princess Mononoke (1997) this is still a solid effort from Studio Ghibli and worth a place in any anime collection.
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