Of all the fanciful adventures Hayao Miyazaki has taken the world on, fan-favorite Porco Rosso might just be the odd member of the family. A male-centric story about a fighter pilot, cursed to live life as a pig, doesn’t seem that odd or whimsical when you stack up the film’s brief synopsis against any other Studio Ghibli title.
But while this story comes across as a breezy mix of ideas (and a quasi love-story), there’s a real sweetness to the themes, a fun sense of adventure, and lots of laughs. There are also plenty of lovable characters in Miyazaki’s love letter to the films right out of Hollywood’s golden age.
At GoSeeTalk, we are purists, so when it comes to Studio Ghibli’s work it’s the Japanese audio track or nothing…except when it comes to Michael Keaton. The famous actor (recently getting quite a career revival thanks to Birdman – read our review here) voices the gruff titular pilot with a heart of gold, and brings a lot to the character even if this is a dub. Miyazaki’s films are known for exquisite animation, sweeping narratives, and incredibly moving scores. No news there, but as animation is an art that weaves magic one frame at a time, Studio Ghibli films excel when the focus is on subtlety.
Many memorable moments in the studio’s history come down to situations where absolutely nothing is happening. Not to say that they relish taking it easy, but Ghibli films like to establish shots. The animators could easily take a break from the stunning action and punctuate/prolong the runtime with static shots and camera pans…but not on Miyazaki’s watch. The film opens with the titular character catching a nap between one of many spectacular mid-air sequences.
The hand of the famous co-founder is felt from the very first frame when the waves subtly brush up against the beach, and the docked plane, where we find Porco Rosso, asleep in his chair. The napping character is so painstakingly animated that you can almost hear the fabric of his shirt tighten as he inhales and exhales. It’s amazing how much effort is put in the tiniest of details. But the result is that a two dimensional image truly becomes a living thing; that’s why Studio Ghibli has, time and again, remained a leader in the animation industry.
As far as story, Porco Rosso has very slight and comparable echoes of Casablanca. Further, using redemption (which compliments the repeated acts of heroism) as a plot device is quite the departure for the studio known for its inspiring tales about feminism or the environment. But don’t worry, that’s about the only thing different from regular Miyazaki fare. It’s still an endearing film that is a sight to behold and a joy to watch (and re-watch).
All that geeky attention to detail aside, Porco Rosso really soars, no pun intended, in any number of jaw-dropping air battles, thrilling chases (so amazing, it’s worth owning the film just for the beginning and the end sequences), and anytime Miyazaki masterfully handles 30 plus characters on scene, in a scene, in one single frame. Wow! Porco Rosso is a high-flying, exciting and exceedingly beautiful endeavor.