Today I watched Hayao Miyazaki’s Porco Rosso (1992)
In yesterday’s review I looked at how the west has used the Japanese image of the ninja. Here we see another side of that cultural exchange as Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki takes on the genre affectations of classic western pulp adventure. Set in the Adriatic sea in the interim years between the first and second world wars; the titular Porco Rosso, or ‘Crimson Pig,’ is an aeronautical adventurer with a bright red float plane who battles sky pirates for bounty. Porco Rosso was also cursed to be an anthropomorphic pig, which is never addressed as being particularly strange, even if he is the only one. Those aforementioned float planes are actually a huge part of this setting and in the style of true pulp, their pilots are heralded as the greatest of romantic heroes heroes, combining the best aspects of both sailors and pilots.
Miyazaki also takes plenty of influence from the film genre of Italian Neorealism in how he structures plot and conflict. The main source of conflict here is the sky pirates hiring a hotshot American pilot to duel the pig for them, but this kind of just bookends the narrative. In between this our hero flies down to Milan to get his plane refurbished and we are shown an Italy quickly descending into fascism. This film is not so much about the action and immediate conflict as it is about a broader conflict between freedom and control that plays out across a fantastically detailed setting with equally as detailed characters.
Of course this is very disturbing time, the rise of fascism, and that leads to an interesting juxtaposition between high flying adventure and some very somber reflection. Miyazaki displays an understanding of the tropes of western adventure better than many who were born to them and thus he elevates the theme of the lone adventurer against an inhospitable and totalitarian world. The pulp hero has always been something of an outsider in the west and in one line Miyazaki makes that into an act of heroic opposition to rising bigotry and hatred, “I’d much rather be a pig than a fascist.” With such a memorable a timely message, it’s high time everyone checked this film out, it’s maybe more relevant now than ever. Plus it’s just a great story driven by some of Miyazaki’s most conplex characters and contains much more to it than the simple political message I keep banging on about. 5/5