Porco Rosso

Porco Rosso

The various loglines for Porco Rosso combined with the poster imagery makes this film suspect. Did Hayao Miyazaki make a film based on the comeback, "When pigs fly"? A flying pig seems an unnecessary excuse for Miyazaki to make an aviation film. But, in classic Miyazaki form, everything is great.

It's refreshing to see a Japanese film doing what English-speaking films have been doing for years, setting a film in a foreign country and having everyone speaking the language of the film's native country. Miyazaki, as we'll see later, needed the film to be set in Italy, but there's no reason why all the characters - even the non-Italians - can't speak Japanese. This is not any sort of formal breakthrough or genius idea, but, as stated above, it was refreshing.

So much of Miyazaki is refreshing. Is there a more open-hearted and unabashedly earnest filmmaker working today? Maybe, but whoever that person is, they're probably not as qualitatively consistent as he is. What is it that makes his work so impossibly flush with goodness while still maintaining a surprising amount of emotional weight despite the magicality that pervades all of his films?

The first element is the scoring. Joe Hisaishi, a longtime collaborator with Miyazaki, is always ready with a playful horn-heavy tune to turn a pirate raid to a comedic sequence. Of course, Miyazaki inspires that music with handfuls of young girls playing in the pirate plane, not fully understanding the potential danger of their situation. Hisaishi scores emotional beats too, but his happier tunes are essential to the feel of a Miyazaki film.

Also essential is that magicality. We never learn why Porco Rosso has a pig's head, but it's remarkably easy to accept. All the other characters accept it, and neutral parties even love it. Marco (that's Porco Rosso) is the only part-animal person, but because most of his identity has nothing to do with that anomaly, Miyazaki is able to skate past any stupid logic questions you have. It's just a pig who's a gifted pilot, okay?

But brilliantly and eventually, Miyazaki makes it a necessary choice. Marco did not get a giraffe's head, and not just because that's not conducive to flying. Porco Rosso is set in fascist Italy in the gap between the (first) two world wars. Have you ever heard the term "fascist pig"? Well, there you have it. As Marco says, he would rather be a pig than a fascist. His appearance is just how we picture the actual fascists, which remain faceless in the film.

Every other villain - the pirates, the butthead American pilot, the pirates' allies - is redeemed at some point close to the end of the film, but the fascists remain at odds with all of our heroes. The irony of a pig being the hero against a bunch of fascists pigs is on the surface, as are the many hilarious one-liners that directly or indirectly play on Marco's piggishness. But a little deeper is Marco's symbolic representation of Miyazaki's love for all of humanity.

We can assume that Marco did something bad to earn his pig head because another character refers to it as a "curse." Miyazaki deliberately flashes back to a time in his life of emotional anguish, but never to the sequence of events that lead to this curse. We've seen him give his charming tough love to the young, gifted engineer that fixes his plane and support himself and others, letting everything negative roll off of his back. He's showing us that underneath an unappealing appearance is someone worthy of our love. Even the pirates become worthy of our love.

The fascists are the only ones unworthy of our love, but Miyazaki excuses us from having to spend any time with them. Maybe he's dodging the tough questions, but it also could be that Miyazaki understands the value of creating something simple and pure and good in a world that already deals with so many nuances of evil. Miyazaki's films are, for another reason, refreshing. Instead of reflecting the world around us - which is also terribly important - he shows us a higher ideal where evil is only ever on the outskirts of goodness. This is a long way off for us, but it's a joy to watch in such beautifully rendered forms. Maybe someday we'll get there, but only when pigs fly.