Porco Rosso

Starring (voice): Michael Keaton and Cary Elwes
Optimum Releasing
RRP: 19.99
Certificate: PG
Available 30 January 2006

Amid the rolling seas of the Adriatic, Porco Rosso lives a solitary life. Spending his time rescuing schoolgirls from aerial pirates, his heroism and courage are never in question. Problem is Porco has the head and face of a pig. If that wasn't a big enough hindrance, Porco's life becomes more complicated when he beats a pirate called Boss. Boss, not one for letting people get away with this sort of thing, hires an American flyer called Curtis to wipe Porco from the skies...

Porco Rosso is another great animated film directed by Hayao Miyazaki from Studio Ghibli, an anime studio that has often been called the Japanese Disney. Faint praise I feel as even the worst of studio Ghibli stands up to the best of Disney and overall their films are a lot better than some of the old tosh that Disney puts out. Little wonder then that, as Disney tries to recover from a string of pedestrian films, they have opted to act as the distributor for Miyazaki's film, let's hope that they do more than attach their name to the films and spend some time drawing a little inspiration.

Porco Rosso was originally titled Kurenai no Buta, meaning the crimson pig, but was changed to Porco Rosso which is Italian for Red Pig. Released in 1992, Porco follows a near perfect string of family orientated films included the award winning Spirited Away and the more recent Howl's Moving Castle. To a certain extent you could make a case for this being the most accessible of Miyazaki's films, for an English speaking audience, as the background is provided by mid-war Europe rather than Japan, where most of his films are set. That said, it shouldn't put you off watching any of his or Ghibli's excellent output.

In 2003 Disney prepared a new English dub with Michael Keaton, well known Batman and a pretty good comic actor, instead of the original voice actor Shuichiro Moriyama, providing the voice of the eponymous Porco. Madam Gina, love interest of Porco and his rival American pilot Curtis, was voiced by Susan Egan, who also lent her vocal talents as Lin in Spirited Away. Curtis is bizarrely played by the English actor Cary Elwes and if that name doesn't bring instant recognition from you, he stared in both The Princess Bride and Mel Brooks's Robin Hood, Men in Tights.

Brad Garretplays the Bluto like bad guy Boss. A successful stand up comic and a well known face on American television Garret has provided his vocal talents to such films as A Bugs Life and appeared in person in many films. Completing the list of major characters is Kimberly Williams, who plays Fio Porco's sidekick and mechanic, probably best known for her roles in, the Steve Martin film, Father of the Bride and The 10th Kingdom mini series. Nearly forgot to mention David Ogden Stiers, the guy who played the idiotic Major Charles Winchester in Mash and is a well known actor on television. He provides the voice of Mr Piccolo, not an extensive part, but I think it bares witness to how much they wanted this film to succeed by the amount of talent that Disney threw at it.

So, what of the film? Well in three short words it's a delight. Keaton brings a sad sort of gravitas to the role of a man who so despaired of humanity that he relinquishes his own. His life of self imposed isolation is broken only by his fighting the pirates, a possible act of redemption for his part in the war. Change is precipitated by the introduction of two new characters in his life, Curtis and Fio.

Although Curtis is initially introduced as a nemesis for Porco, this is not the role that he eventually fulfils. Porco having given up his humanity has also given up his right to love, although Gina has loved Porco for many years he neither acknowledges it nor even entertains its possibility. It is only during his fight with Curtis, when Curtis tells Porco that Gina is in love with him, that Porco reacts at all. And here we have the crux of the film - that love is the only thing that can set you free from the horrors of war. Gina provides the love that Porco could have if only he could see it. Fio plays a similar role, as a young woman she comes to care for Porco very much and as her affection for him deepens she is able to catch glimpses of his true face.

It is through Fio that the audience is led to understand that Porco can be redeemed if only he is willing to let go of the past. Porco's growing affection for her allows him to unconsciously drop the physical barriers with which he has surrounded himself, through his appreciation of her innocent beauty, courage and lust for life, his period of self-isolation begins to erode. It's the perfect metaphor for the barriers that we put up against the ugliness of the world that can only be brought down by the innocence inherent in childhood.

On the disc, audio is presented in stereo English with or without captions for the hard of hearing and the original Japanese stereo, both of which are worth listening to. On the extras side we have the original trailers for the film as well as the Studio Ghibli trailers, plus a nice informative interview with the Studio Ghibli producer Toshio Suzuki. Lastly, for fans of animation everywhere, they have provided the storyboards for the whole film. Most films will give you a number of storyboards, but this film can be played the whole length through as storyboards, or you can flick between the two - a nice interesting extra.

So, there you have it another good night in. It's a great film for fans of animation, and anime, and a great family night in with the kids. There is action enough for even the most jaded child and a depth of story to engage the most discerning adult.

Charles Packer

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