Adventure Animation

Blu-ray Review: Porco Rosso

February 10, 2015Ben MK

When pigs fly high...

Despite the fact that Hayao Miyazaki has made films that feature walking houses, talking cats and forest spirits, Porco Rosso retains a reputation for being the writer/director's strangest endeavor. But why is that? Perhaps it's because the movie's main protagonist is a pilot who also happens to be an anthropomorphic pig. Or maybe it's because the project wasn't originally conceived as a feature film, but rather as in-flight entertainment for a major Japanese airline. The truth is, Porco Rosso may not be Miyazaki's most unconventional tale, but it's certainly one of his best.


The Film The theme of flight has played a prominent role throughout most, if not all, of Miyazaki's films. And nowhere is that more evident that in this story, which revolves around Porco Rosso (Shuichiro Moriyama/Michael Keaton) — whose name literally means "Crimson Pig" in Italian — a bounty hunter with a chip on his shoulder, who patrols the skies high above the Adriatic Sea. But Porco wasn't always a bounty hunter; nor was he always a pig. His real name is Marco Rossellini, and he once was a human World War I fighter pilot.

That is, until a mysterious curse befell him, transforming him into Europe's most infamous airborne porcine. Now — cheered on by sultry restauranteur and longtime friend, Madame Gina (Tokiko Kato/Susan Egan) — he routinely squares off against sky pirates like the Mamma Aiuto Gang, who constantly rue the day they first set eyes on his bright red plane. In fact, they despise him so much that they've hired a fame-seeking American pilot named Donald Curtis (Akio Otsuka/Cary Elwes) to dispatch with Porco once and for all.

When his beloved aircraft sustains significant damage at the hands of Curtis, Porco makes his way to Milan, where he seeks out the help of his trusted friend and mechanic, Grandpa Piccolo (Sanshi Katsura/David Ogden Stiers). In the process, he forms a friendship with Piccolo's 17-year-old American niece, Fio (Akemi Okamura/Kimberly Williams), an aspiring airplane engineer who helps Porco get his tail back into the skies. Together, they set out to outsmart the pirates, culminating in a climactic plane-to-plane — and fist-to-fist — showdown between Porco and Curtis himself.

Porco Rosso caps off a trio of whimsical stories that began in 1988 with My Neighbor Totoro and continued with 1989's Kiki's Delivery Service. For Miyazaki's next animated feature, 1997's Princess Mononoke, would be much darker and more adult-themed in nature. As it stands, Porco Rosso is a fitting conclusion to this trilogy of colorful and kid-friendly fare, bringing to bear teachable themes of heroism, redemption and gender-equality while providing a rousing balance of adventure and fun that entertains from start to finish.

Yet, despite both the thematic and narrative simplicity of the story, glimpses of the resonant themes and subtexts Miyazaki is often known for do surface from time to time. Case in point: a flashback sequence in which Marco witnesses legions of fallen pilots and their planes ascending to the heavens, or a minor subplot depicting Porco's uneasy relationship with the Fascist Italian government and their secret police. It just goes to show that even with a movie as lighthearted as Porco Rosso, Miyazaki still finds ways to incorporate elements geared towards more mature audiences, giving the movie a lasting appeal that goes well beyond your average family film.

Audio/Visual Fidelity Making its long-awaited hi-def debut, Porco Rosso soars onto Blu-ray looking better than ever. Viewers already spoiled by the quality of Disney's previous Studio Ghibli releases will be hard-pressed to find anything amiss here, as the image is awash in vibrant colors, with crisp line art, punchy contrast and top-notch black levels to boot. At the same time, the light film grain inherent in the image remains intact, and there are no unsightly picture defects to report. The delightful visuals are complemented by English and Japanese DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 soundtracks, recreating the movie's original stereo sound mix — from the dialogue, to composer Joe Hisaishi's playful orchestral score, to the sound of engines, propellers and rat-a-tat gunfire — with outstanding clarity.

Special Features In addition to a DVD copy of the film, Disney has seen it fit to include a quartet of Original DVD Bonus Features on this Blu-ray release. Totalling nearly two hours, these extras begin with a 7-minute Behind The Microphone featurette, in which the cast, producers and writers of the English language version of the movie touch on the challenges and nuances of the ADR process. 93 minutes of Original Japanese Storyboards follow, presenting the entire film in storyboard format, accompanied by Japanese Dolby Digital 2.0 audio and English subtitles. Then there are 8 minutes of Original Japanese Theatrical Trailers, including three theatrical trailers and one promotional film. Lastly, there's an Interview With Producer Toshio Suzuki, a 3-minute piece culled from a 1992 Japanese television broadcast in which Suzuki discusses the film, its characters and its director. As an added bonus, both the storyboard version of the film and the selection of trailers are presented in HD.

The Bottom Line While it may be easy to dismiss Porco Rosso as harmless family fare based on its outlandish concept alone, the movie is more than just a blip on Hayao Miyazaki's impressive, fifty-year filmography. It's the embodiment of all the quintessential characteristics that have made his films the timeless masterpieces that they are. And Disney's Blu-ray release absolutely does the movie justice, honoring it with resplendent audio and video, not to mention a few nifty bonuses. This is one title every Miyazaki fan should have in their library.  Ben Mk

Disc Breakdown
The Film  —  
Audio/Visual Fidelity  —  
Special Features  —  

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