Like the classic Nausicaš of the Valley of Wind, this film is based on a manga that Miyazaki himself drew. Unlike Nausicaš, however, the latter is not a sweeping mythical epic. There is fantasy in tonight's film, but it is more about the magic of flight and love than the sort one finds in Nausicaš or Laputa. The manga -- a short watercolor comic strip quietly published in an issue of Model Graphix -- remains largely unknown, but the film based on it went on to become (at that point) Miyazaki's most successful film. (This distinction has since been eclipsed by the phenomenal box office performance of 1997's Mononoke Hime, which went on to defeat E.T. as the highest-grossing film in Japan ever.)
A tale about a bounty hunter who flies in his red Savioa S-21 seaplane, our hero Marco Pagotto is a man cursed with the guise of a pig; hence his name, Porco Rosso -- Italian for "crimson pig". Porco flies for fortune, pride, and love. The film is set in the Adriatic Sea amidst the backdrop of Fascism during the world depression. The background animation is sumptuous yet refined; Jo Hisashi's musical score sweeps and eddies around the story. Character designs here are among Miyazaki's best. The film has also been blessed with a very fine touch of humor. It is at the same time an unsentimental love story and an insistent satire. This is the film in which Miya-san has indulged his passion for flying machines, a work of love he feels guilty about having done. Captivating, this is perhaps his most lyrical film.
More than any other Ghibli production, it is this film that divides the ranks that form Miyazaki's fans. Some feel that it's a second-rate work. Others regard it as one of his finest moments. If anything, Kurenai no Buta is a film of ironies and oppositions -- not least of which is the finale, where the carnival mayhem of the dogfight is broken up by the sobering reality of an impending Fascist Italian fleet. It sums up the contradictions and the charms of our beloved Miyazaki, a man both in search of utopia and yet endearingly human.
* Spoiler Alert * The following is an explanation of the story's ending.
Both Gina and Fio wonder how Marco's curse can be lifted. The night before the dogfight with Curtis, Fio glimpses a human Marco. She brings up the Frog Prince tale but is scolded by Porco. He tells her his story and wonders if God was telling him to fly alone forever, a man too selfish and unworthy to die with his fallen comrades. Fio disagrees: perhaps He was trying to say that it was too early for him to die. She feels that there is reason for him to live and that he is at heart a good man. She kisses him on the cheek; there is no change. The following day, she kisses him on the lips, and there is a change. Curtis demands to see his face, but Porco refuses. This is the first indication that he has returned to his human self. In the ending monologue, Fio tells us that she never saw Porco again. This is not surprising if we remember that she recognizes Porco only in his pig form, never really having met him as a man. Fio may well have met Marco but not have identified him with Porco. As Fio's jet plane passes the Hotel Adriano in broad daylight, we see many ships and planes in the front -- but only a single red one is docked at the rear. The rear, of course, is where Gina's garden is. The red seaplane is Marco's, and it becomes clear that Gina has won her gamble.