Studio Ghibli

film 4 of 9

Porco Rosso

Film Review by Dean Duncan Apr 16, 2015

The mere care and craft of this piece is moving enough, even without all of the other great things it has going on. Shot after beautiful shot leaves you in aesthetical raptures, as well as having a remarkable effect on the entropic inter-war setting in which the story takes place. The Italian cinema of the time—the time in which is Porco Rosso is set, that is—wasn’t addressing the issue, but these are basically the circumstances that gave rise to the pessimistic depths of Weimar Cinema. More important than cinema, of course, are the pessimistic depths of the period itself, that would soon lead to a world-engulfing whirlwind.

For some reason this Japanese animator/auteur decides to take all that on. (Plus his main character is a pig; it’s like he tries the most preposterously outlandish things, just to show what he can get away with!) This isn’t just the dark forest of the classic fairy tale, in which young protagonists/readers encounter peril, and then the power that comes from bravely confronting it. (For Miyazaki’s take on all that, see Spirited Away, and Howl’s Moving Castle., and probably Nausicaa… and Laputa… as well.) From a certain perspective, to a very real degree Porco Rosso is a tale of things falling apart, of rampant aggression, and of the across-the-board jeopardy that results. But Miyazaki renders all this with generosity and joy, such that fire and flack can’t make an impression on all the infinite shades of the colour green, on all the flowers, all the billowing heavenly clouds. The swim team—so sweet!—won’t allow it, nor the utopian matriarchy of the family firm that fashions that new plane for our protagonist.

Real hope in tough, even hellish straits. Porco Rosso is like, practically is a great Howard Hawks movie! (Only Angels Have Wings, of course, though I also heard To Have and Have Not, and even echoes of  The Thing from Another World, [review, q.v.].)  And, for all of the madness of this Japanese auteur’s European pastiches, it registers just as strongly, hopefully, and thrillingly as a great Howard Hawks movie. This includes the Hawksian women on hand, as well as the healthy, happy implication of mature sexuality, believe it or not. (So he’s a pig…)

The felicitous comparisons don’t stop with Hawks. Rapscallions made truly sympathetic, violent fisticuffs as a paradoxical, deeply tender emblem of male love? It’s a John Ford movie! (That photograph!) The upshot of this Ford-ian violence is that we work out our aggressions, vigourously sometimes, but also with patience and commitment. The sweet and reliable result is that our aggressions give way to empathy and regard.

Maybe Hawks and Ford comparisons aren’t fair, or even relevant. Miyazaki evokes them, or perhaps it’s more that his film echoes them. But it echoes them in the way that deep things suggest deep things, whether or not there’s anything conscious in the process. It’s not a matter of influence, and certainly not of pre-eminence. This is greatness, or majesty even. I’ll go to this anomalous length. For me Porco Rosso made Joseph Heller’s Catch-22, as undeniable a piece of conscientious objection in Western Letters, or in all the annals of wartime, seem suddenly puerile. Seemed so, though it’s not. But it’s what happens when repudiation meets this kind of healthy perspective and generous assurance. Rendering the hard world, and prevailing over it! Porco Rosso is an exceptional, beautiful film.