Porco Rosso

Am I really saying it's better than Casablanca? You read right, and I say bring it.

DVD Watch

Porco Rosso

Buena Vista, $29.99

In a secluded cove, a World War I flying ace snores into the pages of a movie magazine, and only the promise of cash can stir him from slumber to protect the schoolgirls of the Adriatic from fearsome air pirates. Perhaps he awakens from dreams of cinema, or maybe he doesn't, and this is his dream, conjured under the influence of lavishly illustrated profiles on Casablanca and Only Angels Have Wings. As the magazine falls away to reveal the face of a pig, our hero arrives: He's a fairy-tale Bogie whose porcine features conceal a human heart, and whose pragmatic reluctance will similarly give way to romantic heroism.

"I'm a pig," he growls. "I don't fight for honor. I fight for a paycheck." Well, that's what he says, but it's mostly a cover for the pain of losing friends in battle, uneasiness with Italy's turn to fascism, and hopeless longing for a woman who actually loves him. In Porco Rosso, animé genius Hayao Miyazaki (Spirited Away) builds the story around a painfully apt metaphor for the shame that fuels unrequited love, what with its hero under a mysterious enchantment that has turned him into a pig. It not only cements hero's generic status as an outsider but lends aching potency to what must be the most intense and heartfelt romance to ever grace an animated film.

So it's a good thing that Michael Keaton and Susan Eagan are up to the task of voicing this long-overdue American release, and that the translation to English is witty and supple. I'm wary of most English dubbing of anime, and my ears still bleed from Billy Bob Thornton's awful turn in Miyazaki's Princess Mononoke, but this time, Disney got it right. If you don't agree, they've thoughtfully included the original Japanese soundtrack with English subtitles. And while they never gave the film a wide theatrical release, this two-disc set delivers the classic treatment, its second disc devoted to the director's beautiful and passionately shaky storyboards.

As helplessly smitten a love letter to cinema as anything produced by the French New Wave, Porco Rosso is Miyazaki's most adult work to date and 100% pure Movie. Markedly different in tone and style from his more customary ecological fables and children's fantasies, it's nevertheless Miyazaki all the way. Full of strong women, spectacular flying sequences, complex morality, sly politics, and of course, pigs, this Hollywood Golden Age pastiche is the sunny, freewheeling work of a master at play and an homage that confidently bests its own most notable influences. Am I really saying it's better than Casablanca? You read right, and I say bring it.

Does that ultimate Hollywood classic have air pirates or a crack squad of moms and grannies building a souped-up seaplane? Is its hero's literal obstacle that he's a pig, and does it offer any sequence so gorgeous as Porco Rosso's haunting ascent into biplane heaven? Bogie and Bergman may always have Paris, but this pig's got wings.

Also Out Now

Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (Buena Vista): Another Miyazaki masterpiece, concerning a courageous princess striving to protect her people from fierce insects and a poisonous jungle spreading across the Earth.

The Cat Returns (Buena Vista): Miyazaki's Studio Ghibli produced this tale of a schoolgirl who rescues an unusual cat, setting off an adventure through the Kingdom of Cats and a proposal to her from the Cat King, offering his son's paw in marriage.

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Porco Rosso, Buena Vista, Hayao Miyazaki

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