Forgotten Films: Porco Rosso (1992)

By Scott A. Cupp

This is the 145th my series of Forgotten, Obscure or Neglected Films

It is no secret that I like the anime films of Hiyao Miyazaki. Back in 2011 I reviewed Nasicaa and had nice things to say about that. So this week, I decided I needed to return to Miyazaki’s vision of the world. My friend, Sam Hudson, gave me the DVD of this film some time ago, but I never quite got around to watching it. This happens far too often. He had previously lent us the Canadian production of George Bernard Shaw’s Caesar and Cleopatra starring Christopher Plummer. He had been by the house of Thanksgiving, so we watched it then and I was able to return it to him.

Now, back to Porco Rosso. I’m not sure why I had not watched it. It hit several of my hot spots – Miyazaki, air pirates, animated films and true fun. So, Sam, I publicly apologize. I should have watched this sooner and credited you for making it happen.

Porco Rosso is the story of Marco (voiced by Michael Keaton in the English language version), a World War I flying ace for Italy, who is the last of his old squadron. His best friend died in their final battle just two days after marrying the lovely Gina. During the battle, he sees the ghosts of various pilots and planes heading into the light. He tries to follow them but is rendered unconscious. When he awakens, he finds all the others gone and he has changed. When he sees his reflection, he finds that he has been given the face of a pig. Marco is gone; enter Porco Rosso, the Crimson Pig. He is a loner who works as a bounty hunter stopping air pirates working the Mediterranean Sea. He fights the sea planes, never killing, but disabling planes for fees from the ship owners.

And he is very good at what he does. So much so that the pirates hire an American pilot Donald Curtis (Cary Elwes) to bring Porco down. Curtis has met them at the Hotel Adriano, run by Marco’s longtime friend and the widow of his best friend, Gina (Susan Egan). Curtis has an interest in Gina but is upset that she is more interested in Marco. In a dogfight, Porco loses to Curtis, but manages to survive and bring most of his plane home.

He takes the plane to Milan and his old mechanic Piccolo (David Ogden Stiers). Marco is a wanted man in Italy, so he is taking a serious chance. Piccolo’s sons are all gone into the Italian military, but he has a secret weapon. His granddaughter Fio (Kimberly Williams-Paisley) is an engineer and has some radical plans for the new plane. Marco does not have enough money but eventually allows Piccolo and Fio to build the plane. Since all his sons are gone, he recruits all the women in the extended family to build the plane.

Eventually, Marco and Fio have to escape before full testing because the secret police are coming. Marco finds all the pirates waiting for him at his “secret” island lair. Eventually, though Fio’s negotiation, Marco and Curtis agree to a duel. If Curtis wins, he will marry Fio. If Marco wins, Curtis will pay off the plane’s debt.

There’s quite a bit more to the story, but that’s the basic plot. There’s lots of fun, some weird Japanese humor and lots of brilliant vistas and aerial combat. I don’t know if Neal Barrett Jr. ever saw this, but I know he would have loved it. He was a major fan of World War I aircraft and the fabulous aviation pulps of the period. I could not help but think of him as I watched this film. He’s been gone nearly two years, and it seems I think of him almost daily.

I had a great time with this film and I think if you like anime, aviation pulps or fun stories you will also. The film is available, as are most of Miyazaki’s, through Disney, who released the version I saw. They should be readily available from the usual online sources.

Series organizer Todd Mason hosts more Tuesday Forgotten Film reviews at his own blog and posts a complete list of participating blogs.