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Wednesday, August 13, 2008

The Films of Hayao Miyazaki: Porco Rosso

For those just tuning in, I'm spending my off-hours this August by watching every film from world-famous animator Hayao Miyazaki and reviewing them here in the blog. Today, we're watching his 1992 opus, based on his own manga The Age of the Flying Boat, and originally conceived as an exclusive in-flight short film for Japan Airlines. Today, we're watching....

Porco Rosso (1992)

Celebrity Voice Cast
Disney rounded up Michael Keaton, Cary Elwes, Susan Egan, Brad Garrett, Kimberly Williams-Paisley, and the legendary Frank Welker for the star-filled dub.

This actually isn't the first time I've sat down and watched every Miyazaki film. When I was teaching English in Japan, there was this month where there was always a Miyazaki film on TV when I got home from work on Saturday nights. However, if I went out drinking with my co-workers after work, I'd usually get home just in time for the last half. And it was on TV one Saturday night when I caught the last half of Porco Rosso. I was immediatly captivated by the dogfights in the film, and how it all came down to a boxing match. A few weeks later, I was visiting that hallowed ground for Miyazaki's fans, the Studio Ghibli museum. Each ticket to the Studio Ghibli Museum has an actual strip of film from a Studio Ghibli movie. My ticket contains a clip from Porco Rosso, and it took me a good hour to figure out that it was from that movie I saw on TV a few weeks ago. This film was largely a mystery to me until I got the DVD.

Our story takes place in the Adriatic Sea, in the years between the two world wars. Porco Rosso was a legendary flying ace for Italy in WW1, and now makes his living as a bounty hunter, hunting down the air pirates who prey on the cruise ships. However, there is something unique about Porco. Thanks to a vaguely-defined curse, he has the face of a pig. Anyway, tired with Porco constantly foiling their schemes, the air pirates hire an American fighter pilot named Curtis. When his plane is badly damaged in a dogfight with Curtis, Porco makes his way to Milan for repairs. There, his plane is fixed by a feisty young female engineer name Fio. With Fio tagging along, Porco makes his way back to the Adriatic Sea for one final showdown with Curtis. Will Porco be able to defeat Curtis? Will the curse be lifted? And will he win the heart of the lovely Gina, who runs the local bar?

What I Liked
Miyazaki is well-known for his love of airplanes, and giant flying machines and flying sequences frequently pop up in his films. As such, this film is filled with some spectacular dogfights. In fact, I'm very disappointed that Disney didn't spring for a 5.1 channel surround sound mix on the soundtrack. And, as always, Joe Hisashi provides some amazing music.

What I Didn't Like
Well, as I already said, the vaguely-defined curse. I know it's a hallmark of anime to be light on the exposition, but this is one case where it would have helped. And some of the main characters are introduced quite late in the film, thus giving us very little time to get to know them.

Final Verdict
A rousing adventure tale, if you turn off your brain and just roll with it.

3 Nibs

Fun Trivia Fact
When Porco Rosso was dubbed into French and released in France in the mid-1990s, Porco's voice was done by Jean Reno. Miyazaki praised Reno's performance, calling it the perfect voice for the character.

Next Time
Oh, are we in for a treat next time. Miyazaki originally said it would be his final film, and put his all into it. It was such a big hit, that the only movie powerful enough to knock it out of the top spot in Japan was Titanic. It even went on to win the 1997 Japanese Academy Award for Best Picture. Ladies and gentlemen, Princess Mononoke.

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