It was the early 90s when I saw my first animé – thanks to the BBC. Akira was broadcast on BBC2 and absolutely blew my mind. Animation in the West was – still is, to a certain extent – seen as a medium only for telling family friendly stories. Akira was anything but; a dark, violent tale set in the then-future of 2019 with some absolutely spectacular animation and incredible action sequences.
It opened my mind to the possibilities that animation could provide, especially as this was a time when CGI was only just beginning to be utilised as a tool for special effects in live action movies. I became obsessed with watching more contemporary Japanese animation and watched whatever I could find, either on VHS or during special ‘seasons’ on UK terrestrial TV, with a single film shown late at night, once a week (it was a very different time!).
Fun fact: due to the main publisher of animé in the UK being called ‘Manga Films’ – I (and most people I knew) often erroneously referred to animé as manga. The content that Manga Films released was often similar in tone to Akira; very adult in content with lashings of blood and gore – so it was harder to find a variety of examples of animé at the time.
It was through a SNES magazine called Super Play that I first heard of Studio Ghibli films. Super Play regularly covered animé of all types – and I remember seeing them cover films such as My Neighbor Totoro, Kiki’s Delivery Service, The Castle of Cagliostro and Porco Rosso, to name some examples. It’d be many years before I got the chance to see these films – but none of the ones I’ve seen have disappointed me so far.
Netflix now have a reasonable range of Studio Ghibli films available to stream; due to this, I’ve finally been able to watch Porco Rosso.
A film about a bounty hunting pilot who fights sky pirates – and who happens to have been turned into a pig (albeit an anthropomorphic pig) by a curse – it’s a charming film, as is to be expected from Hayao Miyazaki’s studio.
There’s a sweet innocence to the proceedings at times; for example, despite the threat seemingly posed by the pirates, they come across as honourable, even considerate – though they kidnap a group of young girls, they don’t threaten them or seem malicious in any way, instead acting as reluctant, exasperated babysitters.
It surprised me that the setting used is grounded in real history, with Porco being an ex-World War I fighter pilot and plenty of references made to the fascist regime that was in power in Italy, at the time period the story takes place in. Though Miyazaki’s movies are often set in a world just one or two steps removed from reality, it was a surprise to see such a closeness to the real, historical political situations and conflicts represented here. Though naturally, the ‘one or two steps’ from reality are still there – a few examples being Porco’s curse and some of the fictionalised, idealised geography.
As with many Miyazaki movies, the beautifully realised environments – Porco’s hidden cove is appealingly idyllic, for example – and excellent animation make for a visually stunning experience. The charming characters, well written story and often laidback pace – despite the presence of a few aerial dogfights and a climactic fistfight (which is played comedically as it drags out) – combine with the visuals to give Porco Rosso an incredibly absorbing quality, which is quite common to Miyazaki’s films.
There’s an unforced, gentle love story at the centre of events; it’s left refreshingly ambiguous, as is Porco’s curse. We’re not given all of the answers – even at the climax – and that’s ok. There’s a closing narration that tells us what we need to know, but leaves us to draw our own conclusions.
I’m looking forward to checking out even more Studio Ghibli films via Netflix; Porco Rosso was definitely worth the decades-long wait between me first reading about it and finally seeing it – and I’ve no doubt that the other Studio Ghibli films available will also live up to my admittedly lofty expectations. It’s an utterly delightful, charming and magical film; I’d highly recommend watching Porco Rosso if you get the chance.
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