According to McCarthy (1999) the film Porco Rosso (1992) is “politics, romance and drama over the Adriatic in the 1920’s” (p. 45). The film makes numerous references World War I and the fight against fascism. A beautiful women (Gina) is in love with a war hero (Marco), who is afraid to confess his love for her. Other men try to win Gina’s affection, but to no avail. The film is also filled with action. Marco stops the pirates, ends up on the run from the Italian government, and gets into a fight or two with an American, who falls for Gina. Many of the characters for Porco Rosso came from the adventure strips Miyazaki drew in Model Graphix, which also featured a pig who flew an airplane (Odell & Le Blanc, 2009; McCarthy, 1999). Though aspects of Porco Rosso are the same as most Miyazaki films this one is different. “Apart from Porco Rosso, all my films have been made primarily for children” (Miyazaki, 2002). One of the best ways to tell that Porco Rosso was not made for children is that there is an adult male protagonist, Marco (Ota, 2007). Marco an ace pilot is a gruff and a bit of an isolationist. He lives alone on an island and rarely interacts with others. Odell & Le Blanc (2009) call Marco an “Angst-ridden pig” (p. 90). Along with being curt and a bit of a loner, Marco is troubled by his past and hard on himself. Fio, the young female aspiring aeronautical engineer, is a secondary character (Ota, 2007). She helps Marco with his plane and helps him grow by pushing him to interact in society. Having an adult male as the lead, instead of a young female, shows that Miyazaki’s intended audience for the film was different.
McCarthy (1999) states that Porco Rosso was meant for middle-aged business men traveling on Japan Airlines. As the film was intended for middle-aged business men, it makes sense then that the protagonist of the film is male and middle-aged. Porco Rosso was initially financed by Japan Airlines “as a flag-ship product for their in-flight entertainment” (Odell & Le Blanc, 2009, p. 90). The film was supposed to be shown on both domestic and international flights, with a run time of thirty forty-five minutes (McCarthy, 1999). However as Miyazaki became more involved in Porco Rosso, “the film became more expansive, took on more sponsors and became a feature-length production” (Odell & Le Blanc, 2009, p. 91). Though meant for adult males, Porco Rosso became the number one box-office hit of 1992.
The most obvious theme and motif in Porco Rosso is that of flight and aircrafts. As Odell and LeBlanc (2009) point out “it’s a film about flying” that was supposed to be shown on a planes (p. 91). As Miyazaki’s created more films flight and flying machines became more integral to the films. As seen in Porco Rosso (was well as Kiki’s) flight and flying crafts are integral to the story. Marco, also known as Porco Rosso, is an ace pilot who flies a bright red plane with a Ghibli engine (Odell & Le Blanc, 2009). Marco’s (like Miyazaki) interest in flight started he was young. Marco became a World War I pilot and has been flying ever since. Marco is not the only pilot in the film, there are many. There is Mamma Aiuto dimwitted air pirates, in their patched together airships, kidnapping school girls. There is also the “smarmy” American captain Curtis (Odell & Le Blanc, 2009, p. 90) in his shiny new fighter plan, starting air battles with Marco and trying to win over Gina.
Not only are there many pilots and their airships there are numerous areal battles. The first areal battle is between the air pirates and Marco, as Marco tries to rescue the school girls. There are two areal battles between Marco and Curtis, and even a fist fight. The first areal battle between Marco and Curtis is brief. However the second is very drawn out, with the two pilots maneuvering their crafts through the sky with grace, at breakneck speeds, taking some carefully and not so carefully aimed shots at each other. Porco Rosso also features a war-time areal battle and the pilots’ heaven, which Marco has been excluded from.
In this film flight represents freedom. Marco uses flight to take him away from civilization allowing him to live as he wants. Without his plane Marco is stranded, unable to make money. Flight allows Curtis, an American to come to the Adriatic and whisks him back to California. Not only is flight central to the theme, it is thrown in as a reoccurring motif. At one point in time Marco goes to the cinema, where he sees an animated film that has flying in it. Flight is also mentioned in the newspapers and on the radio. Almost all of Miyazaki’s films incorporate flight and flying machines, though Porco Rosso expresses Miyazaki’s love for aircraft (McCarthy, 1999). All of the aircraft’s are different which showcases Miyazaki’s talent and imagination. The aircraft’s in the film also keep technology of the time (McCarthy 1999), which shows Miyazaki’s knowledge and love of aviation.
It is in the mid to late 80’s and early 90’s that Miyazaki’s work with Anthropomorphism, Zoomorphism, and Metamorphosis come to the forefront. The main character in Porco Rosso, Marco, is a pig, which brings a Miyazaki motif of zoomorphism to attention (Odell & Le Blanc, 2009). It is said that Marco assumed his pig form when he rejects the human race and retires from humanity (Ota, 2007; Odell & Le Blanc). However that is not the only opinion. McCarthy (1999) says that Marco was transformed into a pig by a spell. Either way Marco gains his pig form and retires from humanity after the war, which his friends and fellow pilots died in. Ota (2007) says that Marco regains his human form when he recognizes adulthood and humanity. During the film Marco regains his human form one night on his Island, after Fio helps restore his faith in humanity. McCarthy (1999) says that Marco has the “head of a pig and the heart of a hero” (p. 160), this statement it is true. Marco may look like a pig, but he rescues school girls and fights to free Fio from Curtis, both actions that a hero would take. Though Marco is a gruff man he always does what is right. McCarthy (1999) said that Miyazaki wanted to make a film about a pig, because he loves pigs. In an interview Miyazaki (2002) said that pigs are easy to draw and the pig and human behavior are similar.
The Western Influence in the film is very pronounced. The location (as in Kiki’s and Castle of Cagliostro) is most certainly European. More specifically this film takes place somewhere on the Adriatic Sea, Porco Rosso is filled with sandy beaches, private islands, and a fancy hotel all surrounded by the blue sea. During the film Marco returns to Italy, specifically Milan, to get his plane repaired. The city of Milan, looks like a city, with its busy streets, and tall fancy buildings. Marco even uses the channel from the factory to escape from the Italian government. During the 1920’s “the Italians were masters of aircraft elegance” (McCarthy, 1999, p. 164), Miyazaki’s used this knowledge in the creation of the planes for the film. Marco is Italian because Miyazaki worked with an Italian man on another project, and the Italian man helped Miyazaki come up with the character concept (Odell & Le Blanc, 2009). Since Marco is Italian it makes sense that Marco would stay close to his home, even though he was estranged from the country. According to Ota (2007) the characters in Porco Rosso have friendships with many flyers from different places. Gina owns the Hotel Adriano, there she meets and serves pilots from all over. There is Marco, who is Italian, the local pilots from around the Adriatic and even an American or two. At the end of the film, there are pilots from all around, who come to see the match between Marco, the Italian pig and Curtis, the slimy yet handsome American. The nations are represented by different flags and different styles of aircrafts. This makes the film global, not just western. At the beginning the opening lines of the film are written in several languages, also making the film global. Ota (2007) calls this action social inclusiveness across nations.
As with most Miyazaki’s film there are a number of strong women in Porco Rosso. Gina is the owner of flying club/hotel, which she somehow keeps going in the poor economy (Odell & Le Blanc, 2009). She is in love with Marco, the protagonist and has been widowed three times. All three of her husbands were pilots like Marco. Gina’s life has been rough but she gets on with life (Odell & Le Blanc, 2009), she runs her business and waits for Marco. Fio is the “17-year-old super-mechanic” (Odell & Le Blanc, 2009, p. 90) who repairs and redesigns Marco’s plane. When Marco has to leave in a hurry she leaves her home, to make sure that she can make any adjustments, because she is dedicated to her work. Aside from being a wonderful mechanic Fio is determined, resilient, and an invaluable assistant. When Marco initially turns down her request to work on his plane, she continues to ask him, until he agrees. She then stays up all night making plans for his plane. Both actions show determination. When Curtis and the pirates kidnap her she does not cry, rather she bargains with them, showing resilience. The women at Piccolo’s factory in Milan are collective organized group (Odell & Le Blanc, 2009). They work together to build a Marco’s plane, and make food to feed everyone working on the plane. This group of women are intelligent and hard-working, pitching in and doing more than their share while their husbands are who knows where.
Porco Rosso is one of few films from Miyazaki that does not have an environmental message (Odell & Le Blanc, 2009). There are no scenes in which Marco or Fio commune with nature, or mention their love for the earth. There are still beautiful landscapes, of islands surrounded by water. It also has very little Japanese influence. People do not bow to each other, Fio is not always respectful to her elders, and characters do not stand around eating ramen.
According to McCarthy (1999) all but one of the planes in Porco Rosso were created from Miyazaki’s imagination. As such the planes in the film look like planes found in comic books. The sometimes patch-worked metals and the shading are obviously hand painted. The setting and background in Porco Rosso, as in Kiki’s Deliver Service, have a fine-art treatment (McCarthy, 1999). The Hotel Adriano looks like it came directly from a painting glittering white, surrounded by deep-blue water. Aerial shots of green and tan islands are surrounded by a sea of varying shades of blue, looking like a landscape from any museum or private art collection.