Release Date(s)1992 (February 3, 2015)
Studio(s)Studio Ghibli (Buena Vista Home Entertainment)
- Film/Program Grade: A
- Video Grade: A
- Audio Grade: A
- Extras Grade: C+
Based upon the Japanese manga “Hikōtei Jidai,” Porco Rosso (or Crimson Pig, if you prefer) tells the story of a former Italian World War I fighter pilot named Marco, who carries a curse that has transformed him into a pig man. Now working as a flying bounty hunter for hire, Marco roams the skies, ridding them of gangs of air pirates, and pining for his human sweetheart Gina. When a rival pilot named Curtis shoots him down and attempts to sway Gina’s affections, Marco must find a way to get his hands on a new biplane and go head to head with Curtis, all while evading the Italian air forces who are out to arrest him.
Filmmaker Hayao Miyazaki has brought us many fine animated masterpieces over the course of his career, some that could certainly be ranked among the best films ever made. But for viewers new to his work, and that of Studio Ghibli in general, Porco Rosso is probably the best place to start. The main reason for this is that it’s easily the most accessible of the Ghibli films, featuring all of Miyazaki’s usual touches, while still having a very human story. Despite Marco’s tendency to claim that he’s nothing more than a simple pig in nearly every scene, you quickly accept him as a fully human character. That’s helped by the fact that he’s really the only truly fanciful element to the story – all of the characters and settings around him are fully human – and also because he’s so relatable. We cheer Marco on, hoping that he can survive his air duels with other pilots, and also break his curse and return to the woman he loves.
It should go without saying that Porco Rosso is a beautifully animated film from start to finish, especially when it comes to the aircraft and air battles it depicts. Even the propellers on those planes seem real when in motion. Miyazaki has apparently had a life-long fascination with aviation, and his attention to those details is tremendous. Studio Ghibli actually gets its name from an aircraft, the WWII-era Caproni Ca.309, which was known by the nickname “Ghibli.”
One of the things that makes Studio Ghibli films so good, is that they aren’t afraid to think out of the box when it comes to storytelling, and they’re always looking for unique and fresh ways to tell their tales. They develop non-traditional characters and their films don’t all stick to one particular tone, style, or genre. Ghibli films all tend to be whimsical to some degree, but they all have a serious component. They’re telling stories that are truthful, generally not based in reality, but with real emotional weight. To Western eyes, these films may seem unorthodox, as animation tends to be seen as a kids genre here in America. But in Japan, animation is every bit as valid as live-action filmmaking and is taken seriously by all ages. Ghibli films are much more far-reaching and engaging than American audiences are used to, and Porco Rosso is no exception.
The Blu-ray presentation of Porco Rosso features a transfer that most will find incredibly pleasing. There is a thin layer of fine grain on display. I might mention that the colors here are different upon comparison with the previous DVD release. This seems to be intentional though, as the colors on Blu-ray more faithfully reproduce those of the original theatrical presentation. Visual details are strong, with deep blacks and acceptable levels of contrast. There’s no sign of aggressive digital clean-up or enhancement. In other words, if Miyazaki himself were to screen this film in a theater for you, this is nearly identical to what you would see... and you’d be very lucky to have that opportunity.
On the audio side of things, you’re given three options: English or Japanese 2.0 DTS-HD and French 2.0 Dolby Digital. The soundtrack itself, like its visual counterpart, seems to be an accurate presentation, sounding much more robust than the original DVD release. There isn’t an enormous amount of heft to it, but dialogue is clean and clear, and both effects and score sound terrific. Some viewers will complain that a 5.1 presentation wasn’t created, but the 2.0 is true to Miyazaki’s preferred presentation of his film, so I’m very satisfied with it. The English dubbed audio features the voices of Michael Keaton, Susan Egan, David Ogden Stires, Brad Garrett, Kimberly Williams-Paisley, and Cary Elwes. It’s not bad, but when Disney creates these dubs, they tend to “Americanize” the story. While that enhances the film’s commercial chances in this country, you loose most of its original cultural context which is key to fully appreciating the film. Fortunately, while the English SDH subtitles included here are basically a transcript of the dubbed audio, there’s a second English subtitle track that appears to be a direct translation of the original Japanese dialogue, giving viewers a good choice. French subtitles are also available.
In the extras department, the disc is a little light, but all of the material released on the previous DVD version is present. There’s the option of watching the complete film in its original storyboarded form, a Behind the Microphone featurette, an interview with producer Toshio Suzuki, and the film’s Japanese theatrical trailers and TV spots. You also get a DVD copy of the film.
All in all, this is a very satisfying release of Porco Rosso on Blu-ray, long overdue for sure. The film is lighthearted and fun, brimming with likable characters, and with a story that’s easy to invest yourself in. It’s not the best film in the Studio Ghibli canon, but it’s one of my personal favorites. It should go without saying, especially if you’re a Ghibli fan, that you should definitely pick this one up.
- Tim Salmons