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Porco Rosso

review by Zach B.

 

 

MPAA Rating: PG (For Violence and Some Mild Language)

Running Time: 93 Minutes

Starring the voices of (English): Michael Keaton, Kimberly Williams-Paisley, Susan Egan, Cary Elwes, David Odgen Stiers, Brad Garrett

Written and Directed by: Hayao Miyazaki

 

Studio: Disney

Retail Price: $29.99

Features: Behind The Microphone, Interview With Producer Toshio Suzuki, Japanese Trailers, Original Storyboards

Specs: 1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen, English Dolby Surround, Japanese Dolby Surround, French Dolby Surround, English Subtitles, English Dubtitles, French Subtitles, Spanish Subtitles, English Closed Captions, Scene Selection (12 Scenes), THX Certified, Two-Disc Set

Released: February 22nd, 2005

 

 

Porco Rosso isn't an ordinary pilot living late 1920s Europe: he's a pig. Struck with a curse, the mercanery-for-hire lives an isolated life off the coast of the Adriatic Sea. Even though Porco has his acquaintances who respect and seek to protect him (such as his childhood friend Gina, who has sincere feelings for the pig-man), he prefers to mask his feelings. Yet with fascism on the rise in Italy, Porco risks being captured when he heads to Italy to get his beloved plane fixed. There he meets up with the talented plane designer Fio, who while young, can somehow see the goodness in Porco's heart and begins to fall for him. But just what happened to our hero (or anti-hero?) in the past that made him go from Marco to the infamous "crimson pig"?

As usual with Miyazaki's films, this is yet another film that can be enjoyed by kids but will probably resonate a lot deeper with adults. Older viewers will most likely have some knowledge of the film's historical backdrop dealing with fascism, and Miyazaki integrates it into the story perfectly: what's going on in Italy is noticeable and effects the characters, but it doesn't get incredibly political and overwhelm the story. Where the narrative really shines though is at its core: the movie is essentially about the power of love, what it really means to be human and redeeming ourselves from our own painful pasts. The story also focuses on what happens when somebody turns his back on the world and his friends, and the anger and frustration that one can feel for own mistakes and for events that cannot be controlled. Even with its moments of wacky humor, "Porco Rosso" still manages to be one of most ambitious and superbly nuanced character studies that has ever been put to film. The constant changing of life, and to a degree ourselves, is what the movie is about.

Arguably, Miyazaki has created some of his most compelling characters with "Porco Rosso." The protagonist, while highlighting Miyazaki's deep love for swines, is really one-of-a-kind. Porco's cynicism may not always make him likable, but as the audience gets to understand him more, it's hard not to feel a little sympathy for him &emdash; even if he is flawed. Porco &emdash; while understandably rejecting some parts of society &emdash; comes to represent a certain inhumanity and disillusionment, and may be symbolic for a man's mid-life crisis in a sense. In continuing with the tradition of having strong female characters in his movies, Miyazaki offers us two: the bold and caring Gina and the much younger and innocent Fio. Gina loves Porco and he's a huge link to her past, but the movie portrays Gina as a talented woman who can succeed in a man's world by her own terms. Fio, meanwhile, has spunky independence, but her ability to see the good in Porco lets the film have a giant emotional impact, especially when Porco begins to trust and open up to her (one of the film's best moments comes when Fio glimpses at Porco's more human side). The character of Curtis is also quite entertaining, as Miyazaki is essentially mocking the romantic American, who is an overdramatic romantic and dreams the high life of the time (in Curtis' case, becoming a Hollywood star). Speaking of America, Miyazaki also puts another glimpse of American culture into the film when Porco is in the movie theater and the cartoon he is watching is Walt Disney-esque.

And since this is a Miyazaki film after all, the animation from Studio Ghibli is nothing short of stunning and flows beautifully. The color scheme used is bright and has variety, and the animation is packed with such amazing detail (which, like all of Miyazaki's movies, make it another reason worth re-watching to catch all the little things) &emdash; be it the planes or the ocean. The Italian locales in the movie are supremely vivid with plenty of realistic touches, and the character designs are wonderful and unique, not to mention are given plenty of subtle gestures based on their personalities. On a different note, Joe Hisaishi's score captures the film's atmosphere perfectly: the orchestraic compositions captures the movie's flying sequences and sense of fun, and while there are several piano solos to capture the movie's quieter and more somber moments.

There really isn't much wrong with "Porco Rosso," or anything at all. As usual, Miyazaki lets his characters grow and develop and the events in the narrative unfold naturally. Personally though, I would have loved to see more of Gina but her presence and effect is made well during the course of the narrative. However, I think the film's ending, or epilogue rather, could have used some expanding: I think Fio's voice-over explaining what follows the climax is a bit abrupt, but her final words and the last shot leaves the audience with something ambiguous &emdash; and the opportunity to debate and write their own ending (which is a wise move, as Miyazaki doesn't exactly sugarcoat things and it keeps in nature with the character of Porco himself).

For this American release, Disney has commissioned a fantastic voice cast of English-speaking actors. Headlining the dub is well-respected actor Michael Keaton, who makes for quite a Porco. Keaton perfectly captures the character's dryness and at times distance, but also a captivating charisma and passion. Brad Garrett makes a hilarious air pirate, David Odgen Stiers is enjoyable as Fio's kindly and loyal grandfather and Cary Elwes, who is British, puts forth an impressive Texas drawl mixed with the right kind of cockiness. Susan Egan was a fine choice for the compassionate and lovely Gina, but it's Kimberly Williams-Paisley who manages to steal the show as Fio. Williams-Paisley, probably best known for her role in the "Father Of The Bride" remake (and its subsequent sequel), brings the perfect amount of spunk and passion to the driven Fio. The actress makes Fio a very easy character to like and buy into, and captures her loyalty and faith flawlessly. In all though, the voice cast did a spectacular job.

"Porco Rosso" is, like every Miyazaki film made, a classic in every sense of the word: it's thrilling, it's joyous, the animation is inspiring, the characters are easy to latch onto and the themes the film offers really mean something. So whether you're a little familiar with the genius of Miyazaki or have never even heard his name in passing, "Porco Rosso" is a great introduction to his work and makes it easy to see why millions have become enamored with his films over the years.

 

Presented in a THX-certified 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen, "Porco Rosso" looks gorgeous. The print used is pretty spotless, and the overall image quality is rather sharp. Black levels are really strong, detail is fantastic and the film's incredible, stylized animation looks beautiful: the bold color scheme comes across as vibrant and the colors are very well saturated. The only real flaws that detract are some very slight edge enhancement, a little bit of noise and the picture quality can be a bit soft at times. Nonetheless, this is a remarkable transfer and I couldn't have asked for anything better.

 

Somewhat surprisingly, the new English dub for "Porco Rosso" wasn't remixed into 5.1 Dolby Digital &emdash; just plain old Dolby Surround. Even though the movie could definitely use a 5.1 track, Dolby Surround is more than suitable. Joe Hisaishi's score sounds great, the dialogue is very easy to hear and while the surrounds don't have a wide soundscape, they do hold their own: the breathtaking plane flights, shouting, gunshots, the fighting and even footsteps &emdash; very solid stuff. A French dub as well as the original Japanese language track are included, plus subtitles in French and English, the English "dubtitles" and English closed captioning.

 

It may be a two-disc set, but the amount of content is on par with the past Studio Ghibli titles Disney has released on DVD. On disc one there's the Behind The Microphone featurette. I was expecting it to be a bit superfluous, and even though it runs a bit under nine minutes, it's well worth a watch. Other than seeing the English dub actors perform, we hear from them as they talk about their characters and the challenge of getting the lines just right, since the animation is already completed. Michael Keaton (who appears to be on the set of some movie - "First Daughter," perhaps?), Kimberly Williams-Paisley, Susan Egan, Cary Elwes, David Ogden Stiers and the always hilarious Brad Garrett get their say in, as well as English-language writers Cindy Hewitt and Donald Hewitt and English language director Tony Bancroft.

There's a three minute Interview with Producer Toshio Suzuki, which is subtitled in English, that was originally aired on Japanese television around the time of the film's Japanese theatrical release. It's a nice if short interview, as Suzuki explains how the film is much different in comparison to Miyazaki's other work and talks about how the filmmaker pays very specific attention to the details.

Other than that, there are some interesting Japanese Trailers on the first disc. The second disc is devoted entirely to the Original Storyboards. Basically, it's the entire film as one whole animatic (in anamorphic widescreen) &emdash; which can be viewed with the new English dub or the original Japanese language track (and optional English subtitles). Whether you like this feature or not is dependent entirely on how much you enjoy seeing an animated movie evolve from the storyboard stage to its complete form.

 

If you've been reading this site for awhile, then you know how much I am in love with the works of Hayao Miyazaki. Even though it's not my absolute favorite movie by Miyazaki, the satisfying and enthralling "Porco Rosso" is hard to resist: it's wildly creative, ingenious and its elements are perfectly balanced (all trademarks of Miyazaki). The extras on this DVD set are fine if slim, the picture quality is fantastic and the Dolby Surround tracks are pretty solid. As typical with every other Miyazaki film currently available, this is one that every DVD collection should have.