Nov 11, 2011

[Movies] Porco Rosso / Kurenai no Buta (1992)

Porco Rosso / Kurenai no Buta
My adventures in the worlds of Studio Ghibli continues on with me finally sitting down to watch Proco Rosso, a movie that my partner particularly loves. I wasn't quite sure what to expect from this movie, but then again almost every other Ghibli movie has left me feeling some degree of uncertainty going in. It's just one of those things, I suppose.

While I didn't hate this movie, I have to admit I didn't love it quite as much versus the others. Perhaps it's because it didn't feel quite as connected to a larger message like most of Hayao Miyazaki's other stories. Maybe it's because I've never felt a strong affinity for anthropomorphic pigs piloting old propeller-style planes. Whatever.

But it was quite the interesting adventure, regardless of how different it feels versus other Ghibli movies. It's certainly a different brand of adventure - one that potentially has stronger ties to the "real" world more than any other movie. After all, it is set between the two world wars and is quite well situated in Europe.

There's just that bit with the pig.

Porco Rosso / Kurenai no Buta is a 1992 Japanese animated feature film both written and directed by Hayao Miyazaki. It's said that it was originally meant to be a short film for Japan Airlines as based on the manga The Age of the Flying Boat, but one thing led to another and it became a full-length feature.

Our protagonist is one pig that everyone refers to as Proco Rosso (Shuichiro Moriyama / Michael Keaton), which is Italian for Red Pig. He's a bit of a mercenary who takes on various jobs for money with the aid of his red seaplane. The movie begins with him taking on a job of rescuing a bunch of kidnapped school girls. He's ultimately successful in the rescue and thus he rewards himself with a few drinks at the Hotel Adriano together with Gina (Tokiko Kato / Susan Egan), the owner and his close friend.

At the bar they also encounter Curtis (Akio ŌtsukaCary Elwes), an American pilot who is busy trying to negotiate a deal with some of the other air pirates. The two eventually butt heads as Porco tries to fly his plane to Milan for repairs. A dogfight ensures and Curtis believes Porco dead after he crashes. But naturally it turns out that he's survived and he struggles to get his plane the rest of the way to Milan. Thus he has to get his plane fixed and find a way out of Italy without attracting the attention of the secret police. And of course there's the score he needs to settle with Curtis.

The movie is a lot more serious than other Ghibli films, more likely because of the war setting. If there is a larger message at play here, it would be Proco's unique sense of morals and his distaste for the facist movement. It's not overly stressed all throughout, but there are a few quotes. There's also the overall mystery of how Porco became to be a big since he used to be as human as everyone else, but this is a mystery that isn't quite resolved within the confines of this one installment.

Fio and PorcoImage via WikipediaWhile Porco is the lead, that doesn't mean this movie isn't lacking in terms of strong female characters (which almost feels like a requirement for Ghibli movies). Beyond the enigmatic Gina, there's also the genius mechanic Fio (Akemi Okamura Kimberly Williams-Paisley), who somehow manages to earn Porco's respect and much of his attention. Fio does make for a fascinating character, especially when contrasted against the goofy air pirates - another Ghibli trope when you think about it.

The overall story though just didn't feel as compelling or rich as other Hayao Miyazaki productions. Beyond the lack of his usual themes of environmentalism and such, the story did feel a tad aimless and a bit too centered on Porco and his limited ambitions. I understand that as a character he was crafted to be rather jaded and cynical about things, but there's still a way to convey that and keep him likable and relatable for the audience.

Then again, Tobie really loves pigs, so I understand why he loves this movie.

Porco Rosso is still a great film with amazingly impressive animated sequences of all the planes flying around. The animation quality is just as amazing as many of the other releases by the studio, but the story just didn't create that sense of wonder and magic that I've come to associate with their work. Still, it deserves 3.5 mysterious shifts in Porco's porcine appearance out of a possible 5.

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