Optimum are launching a Studio Ghibli invasion in 2006, and at the vanguard is the film often described as Hayao Miyazaki's most personal, Porco Rosso.
Set in the Adriatic Sea between Italy and
Croatia in 1929, Porco Rosso's protagonist is Marco Pagot, a former flying ace
whose own self loathing is so strong it has caused him to physically look like the pig he
believes himself to be. Leaving the Italian air force after the war Marco
becomes a bounty hunter contracted by various companies to protect their
interests from the pirate gangs that roam the skies, his distinctive red plane
and porcine appearance earning him the nickname 'The Crimson Pig'. His
carefree life could soon be threatened though, the Adriatic sky pirates have
banded together and hired an American flying ace named Donald Curtis to put
Marco out of action for good, and the rise of fascism in Italy poses an even
greater threat. With all this going on will Marco ever consider himself
worthy of the woman who pines for him, and how will he handle the feisty Fio - a
17-year old mechanic who ends up coming with him after fixing his plane?
Hayao Miyazaki has built a reputation as one of the greatest animators of all time, and that reputation comes from more than just Spirited Away. Porco Rosso is Miyazaki at his best, on the surface it is an imaginative, fun and beautifully animated children's film but it also has unexpected depth and plenty of adult appeal. The characters are excellent as always, particularly Gina - a wealthy chanteuse who runs a high class club on a private island and pines for Marco - and Marco himself, who is a complex and interesting character despite his cartoonish appearance. The voice acting is superb, particularly in the English dub, with Michael Keaton playing the sardonic Marco
perfectly and Cary Elwes delivering an entertainingly over-the-top performance as the cheesy American fighter ace Donald Curtis. However, there are two things that really shine through - the first is the story.
The story seems quite simple, and
indeed can be enjoyed as a knock-about aerial action romp, but there
is a lot more to it. The underlying love story between Marco
and Gina is beautifully understated, whilst the subtext of the rise
of Fascism in Italy provides a sense of foreboding that prevents the
film from getting too whimsical, but never overpowers it. The
time period the film is set in influences more than just the
continuity too, there is a feel to the pacing and setup of the story
that is reminiscent of films from that era and gives the film a
The thing is that all the above would make the film simply very good, but what makes it great is the passion Miyazaki obviously has for the subject. The reason the film is often described as the director's most personal is because he is the son of airplane mechanics and the influence this has on him is clearly visible. His enthusiasm and knowledge is obvious in every scene, and the attention to detail on little things like Marco prepping his plane for take-off and the aspects of plane building gives the film a sense of realism and depth. I know it sounds strange but it's the amount of time and attention given to these little inconsequential
touches that is a major part of the magic of Miyazaki's films, it's these touches that make his films seem more real and Porco Rosso is packed with them.
Reviews of Studio Ghibli films often seem overenthusiastically positive, but to be honest there is good reason. Porco Rosso is one of the most enjoyable films I have seen, Miyazaki creates a great multi-layered story and takes full advantage of the Adriatic setting with some stunning visuals, whilst the music and dub are superb too. The directors enthusiasm for planes and a time of legendary flying aces is infectious, you can't help but be drawn in to it, and it's a film you will watch again and again. Of all of Miyazaki's films Porco Rosso is the most fun.
There's quite a lot packed onto the disc here. As well as the original Japanese trailers and Optimum's 'Ghibli Collection' trailer there is also an unusually short interview with producer Toshio Suzuki and the option to watch the entire film in Storyboard form. There's a lot on here but most people will be unlikely to watch any of the extras more than once.