Imagination Takes Flight
When a pig flies anything can happen, as shown in the Studio Ghibli film Porco Rosso.
A red plane flies over the Adriatic Sea. As the plane dips down, the pilot waves to the boats below. With his jump suit and aviator goggles, he looks exactly like a dashing air ace from the First World War.
Except for the fact he's a pig.
The pilot/pig is Porco, a former Italian air force officer and human being called Marco. After surviving WWI while most of his friends died, he grew weary of life as a human and became a pig. No longer having to deal with 'human' problems, such as politics and war, he spends most of his time lounging around his home, a camp on a secluded cove in the Adriatic Sea. He also patronizes a bar owned by a woman named Gina, one of his oldest friends and the widow of an old air force buddy of Porco's. The two have a close relationship that could become more, but both seem to be waiting for the other person to make the first move. Porco is hesitant to get involved with his friend's widow, while Gina wants Porco to be the one to instigate the romance.
To earn money, Porco fights air pirates (thieving pilots who attack ships) and collects the bounties on their heads. When the air pirates finally have had enough of Porco interfering with their business, they hire Donald Curtis, an American fighter pilot, to take Porco out. Curtis is in many ways the opposite of Porco. A brash young man filled with delusions of grandeur (he plans on becoming a movie star, and then president of the United States), he sees defeating Porco as the first step in his path to fame and fortune. When Porco tries to fly to Milan for plane repairs, Curtis attacks him.
Porco survives the encounter, but his already broken plane gets destroyed. He makes it to Milan, where he gets an old friend and mechanic to build him a new airplane. Porco almost backs out of the deal when Fio, a 17-year old girl, is put in charge of designing the new plane. Fio proves to be a very capable mechanic, making up for her lack of experience with inspiration. Her enthusiasm finally wears down Porco enough that he lets her work on his plane. When the Italian Fascist police move in to arrest Porco, Fio insists on escaping with him.
The two fly back to Porco's camp, where the air pirates lay in wait for Porco. Just as they are about to lynch him, Fio talks them out of it. Like most Ghibli bad guys, the air pirates are not heartless villains. She gets both sides to agree to a deal where Porco and Curtis face off again. If Porco wins, the air pirates will pay off Porco's plane repair debts. If Porco loses, Fio will marry Curtis and 'the pig' will be out of the pirate's way forever. With those as the stakes, Porco and Curtis face-off one more time.
The atmosphere in Porco Rosso is romantic and melancholy with its jaded yet suave hero and his just-out-of-reach love interest. The more youthful characters, such as Fio, only highlight Porco's disentrancement, yet she also helps him to regain his interest in the world. It's because of Fio's faith in an old pig that Porco re-examines his choice to leave the human race, and gradually, he starts to take a more active role in it.
The movie's quixotic setting of the Adriatic Sea and pre-WWII Italy add to the nostalgic mood. The scenes of Porco's little red plane flying through clouds or through a clear sky are beautifully animated. Porco's cove and Gina's café are just among the many detailed settings that the movie takes place in.
The best-animated sequences are, naturally enough, the dogfights. The movie starts and ends with several aerial showpieces. The movements of the plane are fast and fluid, helped by Miyazaki's demonstrated love of flying machines. The planes in Porco Rosso are more realistic than some of the airborne vehicles in other Ghibli films, yet they are still designed by Miyazaki and have a sense of whimsy to them. Despite their fun design, the planes still fly with realism and within the bounds of physics. With its plane fights and chases, Porco Rosso is a great adventure film.
Although it has great action sequences, the movie is a reflective piece. As much as I enjoy this movie, I think it would mean a lot more to someone out of their teens. The undercurrent theme of having your glory days behind you, yet still having to go on would probably resonant more with someone who's had to give up on a few dreams in their lifetime. Porco Rosso was made with middle-age salary men in mind, with the air fights and adventure appealing to their inner child and the slightly cynical pig reminding them of the person that they've grown up to become.
Porco Rosso is only ninety-three minutes long, yet it takes its time in telling the story. The unhurried pace of the movie is matched by its vagueness; the question of how things happen isn't as important in Porco Rosso as the question of why they do. It's never explained how Porco becomes a pig, but the why is made clear throughout the film, as we see him disgruntled with himself and others. For some people, not knowing the details of Porco's 'condition' and past would seem like a flaw, but it's part of the relaxed, laid back atmosphere of the movie and the personality of the main character. This is a great Miyazaki classic recently released on DVD, so what are you waiting for? Go out and fly the skies with Porco Rosso!