Ghibli Fest 2018, the annual Studio Ghibli movie festival presented by GKIDS and Fathom Events, continues its series of theatrical screenings with Porco Rosso, Hayao Miyazaki’s 1992 animated adventure. The movie will be shown on May 20 (dubbed), May 21 (subtitled) and May 23 (dubbed). As always, both Japanese and English language soundtracks will be available for the benefit of all fans.
Porco Rosso is a nostalgic romance in the style of classic Hollywood cinema. If you’re a fan of Humphrey Bogart, then you’ll love this picture. It tells the tale of daring airline pilots and pirates who fly the seas of the Adriatic in the days before the rise of fascism and war, and focuses on a cynical pilot named Marco who has turned his back on humanity, a hotel owner named Gina who is Marco’s lifelong friend and love interest, and a young airplane engineer named Fio. Thrown into this mix is a brash American pilot named Curtis who sees himself as Marco/Porco’s rival in the skies and in love, and who always reminds me of Errol Flynn.
There are thrilling action scenes of airplane pilots and their amazing machines, including an exciting escape through the canals of a major city and a climactic air battle between the two rivals, but Porco Rosso is not an adventure movie. Instead, it is a thoughtful story of longing and loss, about nostalgia and the fading away of a golden age. It is more adult in its themes, yet retains the classic romanticism that we find in Miyazaki’s stories. And, as always, there are many very funny moments that you will remember long after the lights come back on.
I’m a great fan of Porco Rosso. It feels like a definitive example of Studio Ghibli for me, in that it demonstrates the unique talents and abilities of its filmmakers. No other movie studio in the world could make a movie quite like this. It’s heart lies in old Hollywood serials and post-war European cinema, and its pacing is far more relaxed and thoughtful than animated features in America, which more closely resemble roller coaster rides. Hayao Miyazaki is not interested in assaulting you with noise and tired story cliches. He aspires to something better, more grand and epic.
Miyazaki has always been sold in the West as the “Walt Disney of Japan,” but this has never been true. A much more accurate comparison would be Steven Spielberg, whose movies are deeply nostalgic for classic Hollywood romantic adventures that are also tempered with a modern seriousness and sorrow. Porco Rosso is probably the most “Spielberg” movie Miyazaki has ever made. If you go in with that mindset, you’ll have a terrific time.
The Japanese audio soundtrack is superb, featuring 60-year-old actor Shuichiro Moriyama as Marco/Porco and spoken in a gravel-like, world-weary voice. Here is a man who has survived war and remains haunted by the experience, and he is absolutely magnificent. The US English-language soundtrack created by Disney features Michael Keaton in the lead, and he also does an excellent job. He understands that he’s really playing Bogey and he plays the part. I’m reminded of his role as the antagonist in Spider-Man Homecoming. Beyond that, I didn’t care for the Disney dub, which made a number of casting mistakes (Cary Elwes plays Curtis, but he’s using a bizarre cartoonish Kentucky accent when what you really want is his Errol Flynn impression, which is why you hired him in the first place). Worse, the script writers completely threw away the emotional climax of the movie, an absolutely criminal act that highlights the condescending nature of American animation; after all, cartoons only exist to keep toddlers quiet and docile, and are not considered “real” movies.
For my money, the real hidden gem is the French language soundtrack, which was commissioned for Porco Rosso’s release in France and features veteran actor Jean Reno in the lead. He delivers the proper gravitas and weariness, but also elevates the role with a European nobility and stoicism. The entire French cast is equally superb, weighty and grown up and full of experience. Hayao Miyazaki is said to have preferred this soundtrack as the definitive take of this movie, and there are many times where I must agree. I do wish GKIDS would have included this version as well, but this dub is thankfully included on the home video releases.
However you enjoy Porco Rosso, be sure to see it on the big screen. Studio Ghibli movies work their magic most effectively in a dark theater with a room full of strangers. Go grab your tickets now before they sell out.