Porco Rosso is a movie about a former fighter pilot Marco who does bounty hunting work in a pre- World War II Adriatics. The sea is lawless and chaotic with bandits and bounty hunters being about indistinguishable; people still remember the WWI and the next war is approaching. It would make a great setting for a dark and heavy story, but the movie doesn’t go there, it tells its story with good humor and positive attitude. And it is not serious about trying to be a period piece. I mean, the pilot Marco is a pig, that kind of throws the realism out of the window from the start.
But regardless, just the settings alone would sell the movie for me. Such a specific time and place, and not even something obvious or well known, it was bound to pick my interest. Also it is a Ghibli movie and so far I liked all they have put out. Porco Rosso was made in 1992, directed by Hayao Myazaki. The art and animation look very good, lots of moments worth pausing to have a better look at. I recommend this film to everyone who like anime movies.
Now come the spoilers, so feel free to stop reading and watch the film instead.
If you kept reading I assume you’ve already seen the movie :P So what that film was about? The only plot line that persists through the whole film is rivalry between Curtis and Marco and maybe slight romantic tension between Marco and Gina. But the story doesn’t really spend most of its time on either of those. Instead it would give you a good look into the life of an Italian family that builds Marco a new plane. We even get a new main character Fio out of the blue, and she quickly gets the story to rotate around her. It feels strange when she jumps into the movie, you can almost say that Miyazaki just wanted to have an obligatory teenage girl in his film.
But I don’t think it is as simple as that. I think it is one of those stories that want to play a game with you, that give you a chance to guess what is going on without being told. And it is intentionally complicated, as the bits and pieces come in randomly, in no order. So I’ll try to give you my view on it, and you can decide if that makes sense or not.
First is Marco’s “curse”. I don’t think I need to argue that it is weird and out of place for such an otherwise realistic movie. What’s more, no one reacts to the fact that Marco is an anthropomorphic pic, a completely unnatural creature. The way people treat Marco is as if he just has some weird attribute, but nothing more. It is definitely intentional too. So it tells me that this is how I suppose to see that curse, as an attribute, or maybe as some sort of mental state.
Then let’s look at Marco himself. The key ingredient of his personality is him being self-centered, at least on the surface level. As Marco said to one of his friends: “I only fly for myself”. He lives alone in an isolated place, he works alone, he defies governments and laws. Even for people he cares about, like Gina, he remains distant. And it makes sense, with him being a pig. You can say that it is a what the curse has done to him, since we know he wasn’t a loner his whole life. Later in the movie Marco would say “It seems to me God was telling me I was a pig and maybe I deserve to be all alone”. I quote the dub, the lines are different the subs, but the meaning is about the same.
We learn that Marco once was a fighter pilot, he fought in the Great War (WWI), and the finale of his career was a horrible fight where his best friend died while Marco was doing his best to save himself. Judging by Marco’s words I can guess the killing during the war and his actions during that last fight that he viewed as cowardly, that created a burden that Marco has carried with him since then. He left the air force and gave up on his former life. When talking to Gina he said “Good guys always die”, implying that he does not see himself as a good person. And it wasn’t a pose, it sounded like something he believed in. What’s more, he was not implying that his morals were twisted, rather that he failed to live up to what a good person is. Seeing himself as that sort of failure, wouldn’t that be a curse.
You can see where I am going with this. The curse was not a magic spell, Witch of the Waste didn’t have to be involved. It was Marco giving up on his own humanity. Unable to live up to his own ideals he turned to follow another road, more suitable for a pig, as he refers to himself every so often. And I can quote Marco yet again, as he says to Fio “Seeing you makes me wish I’ve never given up being human”. That line is pretty different in the subs though, much more neutral. And since I’ve compared the two, let me pull up another quote that I like and I feel it is missing from the subs. After that “I deserve to be all alone” line Fio tells Marco that he is a good person, to which he replies: “No, the good guys were the ones who died. Or maybe I’m dead and life as a pig is the same thing as Hell”.
Now why did we need the Piccolo family and Fio in that movie? Remember that scene when Marco was going to close the deal with his mechanic because he didn’t want his plane to be designed by a woman? And how he had given in the next day, seeing that Fio had what it took to build one? He given in because he wasn’t so stupid to actually be bothered by prejudice and he wasn’t rotten enough to actually believe that a woman can’t do as good job as a man. All he needed to do was to stop acting as a pig and give the girl a fair chance, and it worked out great for him. And I think that is a big part of Fio’s role in that movie, she makes Marco act decently, thinking of others instead of only about himself. Like that time when Fio was going to fly with him sitting in a tiny compartment on top of a machine gun. Marco couldn’t do that to her, so he got rid of one of his guns instead. Fio’s honesty and enthusiasm did way more for Marco than a company of his wise old friends could.
My friend Shaurya said that the story feels like a fairy tale. I think so too. I am very happy that I got to watch that fairy tale about a middle aged man who once lost his own self. Tell me what you think about it! See you next time.