Ghibli Month: Porco Rosso

Tsunderin: One upon a time many years ago, Adult Swim was hosting something they called the ‘month of Miyazaki’: a month of showing Miyazaki—I can’t remember if they threw in some Takahata to shake things up—films ass-early in the morning. I was bound and determined I was going to watch every single one. Every. One. I started out well, made it through Princess Mononoke and Spirited Away, but the film that followed them just couldn’t keep my attention at all and I conked out.

Porco.Rosso.full.220032…Looking back, that wasn’t exactly impressive of me. Oh well, I’ve never been a hardcore movie watcher.

After giving it another shot though, I’ve found that Porco Rosso has really grown on me. Perhaps the reason I didn’t like it was because of the deeper intricacies that went right over the head of younger me or the fact that it didn’t star someone particularly likable (not as likable as Miyazaki’s previous heroines/heroes, at least). Or maybe it was because it starred a pig, because seriously, what would even make you think of that?

Yes, our main character, Marco (aka: Porco Rosso) is a pig-man. Kind of obvious from his nickname. More importantly, he’s an ace pilot from WWI who spends his later years as a bounty hunter who’s more known for his flashy moves than his work ethic. In this universe, planes are the main mode of transportation, so rather than common thieves we have sky pirates, and all of them really hate Rosso, none more so than the Mamma Aiuto gang who even go so far as to besmirch their own pride and hire foreigner, Curtis, to take out their long time-foe. To Curtis’s credit, he does manage to shoot Rosso out of the sky, stranding the boar on an island and forcing him to seek refuge in Milan so his plane can be repaired.

No, not that Piccolo.

No, not that Piccolo.

Luckily, he’s one of those guys that always seems to know other guys to do “things”, so being stranded in Milan isn’t much more than an unplanned vacation. Rosso’s best bro, Piccolo, is the head mechanic at his self-titled business and is more than happy to illegally aid Rosso in repairing his plane, except he’s not going to be the one doing it. No, that’s a job for his granddaughter, Fio. At first, Rosso is apprehensive of the skills of someone so young and so gifted with the X-chromosome, but with Fio’s determination and attention to detail, he relents and allows her to work. Unfortunately, Rosso is not only stranded, but also being followed by the Fascist government that is slowly taking over Italy. Our porky protagonist leaves that night, but Fio insists she comes along to make sure the plane is in working order.

Upon returning to his hideout in the Adriatic, both Rosso and Fio are ambushed by the Mamma Aiuto gang, but are saved when the little mechanic smacks the gang down for their dirty tactics and lack of morals. She doesn’t tell them that they can’t try to get revenge on Rosso, but that they must do it through Curtis, since he was the one who shot Rosso down in the first place. By a stroke of Curtis being partially insane, he hears this proposal and agrees to it as long as he gets Fio’s hand in marriage if he wins. Before Rosso can get a word in edgewise, Fio agrees. But if Rosso takes the gold, Curtis must agree to pay the pig’s substantial debt to the Piccolo mechanics. Matters settled, the two prepare themselves for the showdown the next day.

porco-rosso-curtis-punchThough an exciting, valiantly fought battle, Rosso wins only by happenstance—I’m more willing to call it a tie than anything—and all is well. Fio is released from the world of sky pirates and Rosso is supposedly never heard from again, but everything after the match is just speculation on the part of the audience.

More than any other Ghibli film so far, this summary has been truncated, but that’s because there’s just so much going on in the film that has to be taken into consideration. Politics, social climate, wars: the fact that this movie takes more influences from real life, as opposed to Miyazaki’s imagination, makes it a much deeper film on some levels and that much more difficult to explain succinctly.

MadameAce: Up until this point, I don’t think I ever struggled as much while watching a Ghibli film. I may not be Nausicaa’s biggest fan, and I certainly wouldn’t call Porco Rosso a bad film, but it’s just not the type of movie for me. I do find the setting—a post-WWI world with sky pirates—an interesting set-up, and the characters have more than enough personality traits to make them three-dimensional. Like every other film thus far, Porco Rosso does that thing where it doesn’t give backstories to some vital events. In this case, I would argue that for the setting, we really don’t need any kind of history lesson. We all know about WWI and what happened, so a backstory there would be pointless. And the fact that planes are simply more prominent modes of transportation and even more prominent means for thievery is a neat twist on history. I get that, and I like that, even if it isn’t my cup of tea.

It looks nice, I guess?

It looks nice, I guess?

There are some things I have to question, however. For instance, we actually find out in the film that there is a plane heaven. A heaven for people on planes who just spend eternity flying together in a straight line. One of Rosso’s problems is that all his friends died and made it into plane heaven, but he continued living, and he thinks God is telling him that he has to continue flying on alone for the rest of his life. This does give insight into his character, and it helps to explain some of his actions. He is very much a loner, and he doesn’t let other people get close to him. But I still have to question a plane heaven. Even by Porco Rosso’s standards, it wouldn’t be a very nice place. In fact, for a pilot, it would seem kind of boring and incomplete, to simply fly in a straight line for the rest of eternity. It would be like a Nascar driver finding out that in death he could be rewarded with driving 50mph on a crowded freeway going nowhere until the end of days.

But I digress. There’s a much more serious issue to be brought up in terms of this movie. While in some areas we don’t need a backstory, we really need it in others. Porco Rosso is still a giant, walking, talking pig. Supposedly, he was cursed by witches, or some such thing like that, and now he’s a pig. Somehow. This is never explained. Or really brought up. Everyone just accepts that this dude’s a pig. Just in general, the idea of witches or magic—or talking pigs—feels as though it belongs in an entirely different genre than the rest of this movie.

Everything else is grounded in reality, but Rosso’s entire backstory involves make-believe. It does lend itself to some funny moments, which helps with the tone of the film, so I’ll give it that. However, since I was more or less apathetic to everything that’s happening, I find myself asking one very important question that the movie never answers.

If Rosso eats pork, is that cannibalism?



Tsunderin: I don’t think I’ve ever seen him eat meat—actually, I’d be surprised if he didn’t consider himself wine-iverous by that point in his life since that’s about all we ever see him consume, save for a plate of spaghetti, during the entire film. If his friends ate pork, would he be offended?

MadameAce: On another note, does he have a tail, too?

Tsunderin: Aside from this pressing issue, I have to give Miyazaki credit here. For all intents and purposes, Rosso is an entirely unlikable character: a sexist lone wolf who doesn’t like to acknowledge the problems he causes for the people he supposedly cares about and whose greed seems to rival that of Wario. And alone he probably would have remained as such, but every single character with whom he interacts really has an impact on his character, as much as he wouldn’t like to admit it.

Some of the character progression is really obvious. For example, after meeting Fio, he becomes much more receptive to other people and those barriers he had spent decades putting up finally have a chance to drop a bit. By “receptive to other people”, I don’t only mean in terms of not writing them off as useless wastes of space right away, but in the way that he actually listens to their critiques of him and internalizes them. Before, he had a sort of haughtiness that certainly he deserved in terms of flight skills, but was more internalized by his ego than they should have been, causing him to place himself on a pedestal above the other pilots. After, he was able to realize that he wasn’t any better than the sky pirates with whom he was constantly bickering, and that in some ways he was more despicable than they ever were.

Some changes are bit more subtle. For instance, after meeting with Curtis for the first time there’s a vulnerability and insecurity that Rosso comes face to face with, but he brushes it aside with porco1997selfishness. Curtis makes no jokes about his intentions to marry the lovely lady Gina of the Hotel Adriano—where pretty much everyone in the Adriatic hangs out—who also happens to be Rosso’s long-time friend/love interest. Afterwards, he immediately heads out for Milan for a vacation and a tune-up, but he’s also escaping the seeming inevitability of his imperfections. Just a scene earlier, Gina inquires if there’s a cure for Rosso’s curse. There is no answer, and by the complete omittance of any knowledge of the offending witchcraft, it can be assumed that there isn’t one, or, at the very least, he doesn’t know it. As such, Rosso assumes he has lost not only his humanity, but also his desire to ever attain it again, given that for the past several years he has been fine without it. However, now faced with someone that personifies (emphasis on person) everything he could have been had he not given up, there’s a certain amount of discomfort and insecurity around him. Going to Milan is not only a means to repair his plane (which wasn’t shot to hell at that point), but also a way to escape reality. If Rosso wasn’t so affected by the same people he pretends don’t matter at all to him, then he would truly be beyond redemption and thus uninteresting.

Also, I love how ridiculous the villains are: they’re a perfect foil for Rosso’s stoic badassery. They’re also not horrible people. In the first scene, the Mama Aiutos kidnap fifteen young girls from a cruise ship, but spend the entire time trying to convince them (or even themselves) that they’re hostages. Yet they also make sure sure the little girls don’t hurt themselves on scattered weaponry and they let the little girls look outside the hatch to see the ocean. Even when they’re liberated from their captors by Rosso, the pirates mention that they’ll miss them. In an economy where it seems like you can only live by either being in the air force or being a sky pirate, it’s easy to sympathize with the villians. Even Curtis doesn’t want to be a pirate; he has large aspirations of being a movie star in Hollywood, but he’s willing to steal and kill because he thinks it will make him famous.

Field trip!

Field trip!

In this way, I can’t even consider them villains. In fact, I can’t even consider the opposing faction, the Fascist government, a ‘villain’ because they have no figurehead and they don’t directly interact with any of the characters. It’s another aspect that makes Porco Rosso a more difficult movie to pin down, because it’s entirely possible you’re not rooting for anyone: in the end, every character is just that, a character and is not inherently bad or good.

MadameAce: I think the only character not very well done is Gina, in all actuality. Everyone in the story is in love with Gina because she’s pretty and has an amazing voice, but other than that, she doesn’t really offer much to the story, other than to be a love interest for Rosso and a reason for him to keep returning to the Adriano. She herself has already lost three husbands, but that doesn’t really add to her character, other than to say, well, she’s single, so it’s not a problem if she pursues a relationship with Rosso. She even says at the beginning of the movie that that very day, she found out that her latest husband, who had been missing for three years, was confirmed dead, and she has no more tears left for him.

This doesn’t really endear me to her character. If she had no hope that he would come back alive, I could understand her not having any tears left, since she probably already mourned his passing. And considering that he was her third late husband, that’s more than likely the case. Yet, she’s still content to pursue a relationship with Rosso and give up a promising career in Hollywood on the very unlikely chance that he’ll settle down with her. At the end of the movie, it’s never really explained whether or not the two get together, or even whether or not Rosso becomes human again.

Rosso himself has a penchant for womanizing and—I’m assuming—sleeping around. He also doesn’t seem to have problems stringing Gina along. And this leads us to the next very important question that the movie never answers.

Since at one point Rosso used to be human and more or less continues to function as a human, even though he’s now a pig, would Gina or another woman pursuing a relationship with him be a form of bestiality?

Tsunderin: I… don’t even know how to respond to that.

MadameAce: That’s why I asked.

I think this phone conversation is my favorite scene though.

I think this phone conversation is my favorite scene though.

Tsunderin: To sum this up, however, if you’d like a Ghibli movie with a little more meat and a little less growing up, I’d recommend this movie completely. In my case, I found it a pleasant surprise. Although it’s easy to pick out this film’s roots as an in-flight short about the joys of flying—the beginning is very slow and has no story to speak of—it’s still a film worth your time. If not for the eclectic cast, then for the beautifully animated flying scenes. Miyazaki’s been known to exploit his love of flight and aviation through his stories, so you can expect Porco Rosso to capitalize on that to its fullest potential.

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About Tsunderin

Greetings and salutations! Feel free to just call me Rin—we’re all friends here, or nemeses who just haven’t gotten to know each other well enough. I’m a video game lover from the womb to the tomb, and Bioware enthusiast until the day they stop making games with amazing characters that I cry over. And while I don’t partake as often as I used to, don’t be surprised to find me poking around an anime or manga every once in a while either. A personal interest for me is characterization in media and how women in particular have been portrayed, are being portrayed, and will be portrayed in the future. I’m not going to mince words about my opinion either.