The Beginner’s Guide to Anime, No. 137 – Porco Rosso

Porco Rosso 1

Around Christmas Film4 often shows Studio Ghibli films, so now is a good time to look at some of the films yet to be covered in this column.

Porco Rosso (Italian for “Crimson Pig”) is a film which mixes fantasy, adventure and comedy. Made by Oscar-winning director Hayao Miyazaki in 1992 and based on an earlier manga that Miyazaki wrote himself called Hikotei Jidai (The Age of the Flying Boat); the film resonates with some of Miyazaki’s recurring themes such as flight and politics.

The film is set after the First World War and follows the title character, Porco Rosso, a former ace fighter pilot who fought for the Italians and now works as a bounty hunter, attacking flying pirates. However, Porco suffers from a bizarre curse which has transformed him into an anthropomorphic pig. He spends his time living on a remote island in the Adriatic Sea, away from Italy’s fascist government who want to arrest him, and occasionally visiting the Hotel Adriano which is run by his friend Gina, a woman who is in love with Porco and is waiting for him admit his feelings.

The airborne pirates whom Porco is facing are working with a smug American ace pilot named Donald Curtis, who also has affections for Gina. While Porco flies to Milan to get his beloved plane serviced Curtis shoots him down, thinking that he has killed him, but Porco survives, manages to get to Milan where he meets his mechanic Piccolo. While there he discovers the entire male workforce has left, leaving the womenfolk to repair his beloved plane, guided by a girl named Fio. At first Porco is sceptical, but he learns that Fio is a brilliant mechanic and appreciates her work. When Porco returns to his island with Fio in tow, they are ambushed by the Curtis and his pirate colleagues. Eventually Porco and Curtis decide to have a final duel with each other: victory for Porco will mean his debts will be cleared, whereas victory for Curtis means he will marry Fio.

Porco Rosso contains many elements of Miyazaki’s work that you see in his other films: Fio being the strong female hero in the tale like in so many of his films; while Curtis is arguably the villain he is not completely evil and has some ambiguity around and positive qualities to him; having a human-turned-pig as a character is something that would re-appear in the Oscar-winning Spirited Away (No. 42); and aviation is something Miyazaki who explore in-depth in his fantasy biopic The Wind Rises (No. 73). You can also see Miyazaki’s left-wing political views come out, with Porco attacking fascism.

The film, like all Studio Ghibli films, was hugely popular when it came out, topping the Japanese box office and taking ¥2.8 billion ($34 million). Perhaps not surprisingly, Miyazaki later went on to say in 2011 that he was interested in making a sequel, set during the Spanish Civil War called The Last Sortie, but whether that will ever be made is unknown, given Miyazaki’s odd retiring-and-then-returning habit.

Porco Rosso is released on DVD and Blu-Ray by Studio Canal. It will be televised on Film4 at 11am on Sunday 20th December.