Reviews: Porco Rosso

Warm, nostalgic fun, though also unfulfilled potential

Porco Rosso is one of those movies that sounded great just reading about it. 1920s Mediterranean setting? Fighter pilots? Air pirates? A world-weary ace who's turned into a pig? A chic cafe on an island in the middle of the Adriatic? I'm sold! And sure enough, it delivers - Ghibli in general and Miyazaki in particular are excellent in delivering smooth atmosphere, and Porco Rosso succeeds in providing a warm, sometimes bitter, sometimes goofy, sunny, nostalgic tone. You can taste that bottle of wine chilling on the beach. The sound of Gina's old-fashioned French singing takes you back to an Old Europe you probably never actually knew. It's uncanny.

This film especially evokes Casablanca - wartime setting (-ish), a cafe culture, a complicated romantic triangle, and a hero who even Michael Keaton compares with Humphrey Bogart. Porco's a loveable man-pig, totally one of those gruff dudes with a heart of gold (trope link?), while his main companion, Fio, is arguably one of the most likeable of Miyazaki's many girl characters - young and cute and perky, but also fiercely intelligent and much more assertive and self-confident than some of his more demure characters. (In general I find Miyazaki's movies to have some of the best role models for girls in the cinema.)

When I first watched this in high school, period ended right after the climax, and I assumed the movie would continue afterward. Instead, it pretty much ends. I've always felt this was an abrupt, unsatisfying ending, as if Miyazaki wasn't sure where else to take the story so he just finished it. An extra half-hour would have gone a long way to making me feel that this was a great movie instead of just a way for Miyazaki to indulge his fantasies. As it stands it's still a good movie and well worth a watch, but it feels more like an hour-and-a-half-long musing than a coherent plot. Oh well, it's more about the atmosphere and Scenery Porn anyway. (And maybe the sequel will improve things? I definitely feel this is one Miyazaki movie that could use a sequel.)

By the way, I am also perplexed by the claim that this movie was intended for adults. Porco's character is definitely one that would strike a chord with older viewers, but there are also many goofy, silly, and just plain cartoony moments, like any scene with the pirates. I would consider this "all-ages".