Film buffs may claim the greatest Japanese director who ever lived was Kurosawa. In my books the greatest – and at the time of writing, still living – Japanese filmmaker is surely Hayao Miyazaki. My absolute favourite from his oeuvre, is PORCO ROSSO.
Miyazaki created the animation masterpieces MY NEIGHBOUR TOTORO, SPIRITED AWAY, GRAVE OF THE FIREFLIES and HOWL’S MOVING CASTLE. When he announced his retirement for the sixth time at the end of 2013, it seems the 72-year old was serious. Within the year, his Studio Ghibli announced a major downsizing, effectively closing down Japan’s most successful animation studio.
The Ghibli films won major prizes at festivals worldwide, and after the phenomenally successful SPIRITED AWAY ($275m worldwide), all of his work received international theatrical releases. This has always been exceptional for Japanese cinema.
I went through a Studio Ghibli marathon with my son, when he was 9. During HOWL’S MOVING CASTLE, he exclaimed “This is the best movie I’ve ever seen!”
Pixar Praise For Miyazaki
Miyazaki’s feature animations impress with freshness and depth. They sparkle with originality, yet they feel strangely familiar. They feel like a fairytale you vaguely remember from childhood.
In SPIRITED AWAY, a girl sees her parents transformed into pigs when the family is trapped in a mysterious world with ghosts, witches and monsters. The young woman in HOWL’S MOVING CASTLE falls under a curse that gives her an old body. A handsome wizard in a flying castle must help her. PONYO tells the story of a young boy who falls for a fish with a human face, an omen that predicts a tsunami…
No wonder the Pixar brain trust are huge fans of Miyazaki’s animation. When SPIRITED AWAY was released in North America (2003), John Lasseter personally escorted Miyazaki around the country to support it. As a thank you, Studio Ghibli sent him a 155mins video letter titled Lasseter San, Arigato (Thank you, Mr Lasseter).
On IMDb.com, PORCO ROSSO ranks only 7.8, lower than some of Miyazaki’s best known films. Still, I believe it is not only one of his best; it’s one of cinema’s unsung master pieces.
The porcine pilot from the title is a WW1 veteran who spends his days as a reclusive bounty hunter on a secluded beach. Can you see the ‘isolated’ theme here? If he is not fighting pirates, he is fending off his American arch nemesis Curtis. The wannabe actor’s inflated ego sits at the opposite end of the scale from Porco’s.
In the middle between the two stands Gina. She runs a restaurant, and keeps her heart for Porco. For a long time, she has been awaiting the moment when he will be ready for her. Finally, there’s Fio, a young girl who is in awe of Porco. She is the granddaughter of Piccolo, the plane repair man, and a damn fine engineer herself! She will facilitate Porco’s transformation,
Porco Rosso’s Backstory
At the story’s Ordeal stage, at the end of Act Two, Porco tells a story to Fio. We learn about his emotional wound; how he lost his best friend… and how he became a pig.
Thematically, the scene reminds of another classic war monologue in the movies, when Quint (Robert Shaw) tells the US Indianapolis story in JAWS. Both are stories about survivor guilt.
An important difference, however, is that during Porco’s monologue we flash back to join in a WW1 dogfight. The following sequence is one of my absolute favourite moments in cinema history.
It never fails to send chills down my spine. We’re looking at what initially looks like a vapour trail in a clear blue sky. Then, we’re blown away… A pure cinematic moment, mysterious and beautiful. Intensely moving.
This scene alone earns PORCO ROSSO its status of cinema classic.
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Have you watched this movie? Let us know in the comments below what you think of this sequence. And what is your favourite Miyazaki?
Karel Segers wrote his first produced screenplay at age 17. Today he is a story analyst with experience in acquisition, development and production. He has trained students worldwide, and worked with half a dozen Academy Award nominees. Karel speaks more European languages than you have fingers on your left hand, which he is still trying to find a use for in his hometown of Sydney, Australia. The languages, not the fingers.