For its first 20 minutes or so, Porco Rosso doesn’t even acknowledge the fact that its main character is a human with the head of a pig. Therein lies the heart of the movie’s charm.
Written and directed by Hayao Miyazaki, Porco Rosso is decidedly matter-of-fact, even during the lovely interludes of airplanes floating against gorgeous skies. There’s no insistence or pretense here. Set in the Adriatic Sea of the 1930s, featuring a World War I Italian fighter pilot who was turned into a pig and now makes a living as a bounty hunter, the movie has a carefree sensibility that belies its underlying consideration of things like love, loss and warfare.
It’s also something of a warm-up for Miyazaki’s final film, The Wind Rises, a historical biopic about a Japanese aeronautical engineer. Much of Porco Rosso is given over not only to the act, but also the accomplishment of flying, especially in a subplot involving a young (and notably female) plane engineer who comes to Porco Rosso’s aid.
As for the pig, he’s a delightfully devilish character. Masculine, gruff and given to few words (in the English-dubbed version he’s voiced by a monotone Michael Keaton), Porco Rosso is something like a swine Ernest Hemingway – there are even allusions to his womanizing past. Lest you think he’s simply a caricature, however, the movie also gives him a melancholy flashback to a disastrous mission he flew in the war. It’s a hauntingly poetic moment that blends reality, fantasy and spirituality in the way only Miyazaki can.