With it being #ThrowbackThursday over on Twitter, I decided to pick an older film from my Blu-ray collection that I had yet to try, watch it and give it a review. I plan to make this a recurring feature, with two or three #ThrowbackThursday Reviews a month going forward. The only difference between a #ThrowbackThursday Review and a standard review will be in that I won’t be taking notes whilst watching it. For this first outing, I opted to finally try Studio Ghibli’s, Porco Rosso. Other Studio Ghibli Blu-rays that I have yet to watch will be featured as future instalments of #ThrowbackThursday Reviews; however, the next instalment, hopefully in 7 days, will be featuring Anime Limited’s Wings of Honneamise blu-ray.
Porco Rosso is the sixth Studio Ghibli film, and the fourth directed by Hayao Miyazaki. Originally released on July 18th 1992, Porco Rosso is based on a three-part watercolour manga from Miyazaki. The film features an Italian WWI ex-fighter ace, now chasing air pirates as a bounty hunter. He is no longer the man he once was, however, a curse having transformed him into an anthropomorphic pig. Originally named Marco Pagot, he is now known as Porco Rosso, Italian for Red Pig.
The film begins with Porco responding to an alert of an attack by air pirates; upon defeating them, he retires to the Hotel Adriano, run by his friend, Gina. At the hotel restaurant, the heads of the pirates meet Curtis, an American ace with a contract to assist them. Curtis falls for Gina, but in light of her affection for Porco, he shoots him down on his way to Milan for plane servicing. Porco survives, but his plane is in dire need of repair. He discretely meets his mechanic in Milan, where much of the repair work is carried out by his granddaughter, Fio. She joins him on his flight home; while refuelling, Porco learns of the fascist government using seaplane pirates for their own use. When he and Firo return home, they are ambushed by pirates; Fio talks them out of it, but Curtis arrives, challenging Porco to one final duel. If Porco wins, Curtis pays his repair bill; if Curtis wins, he may marry Fio. We learn that Porco was turned into a pig for what he believes is divine punishment for fleeing from a fight when he was human. The final duel starts off as a dogfight, before becoming a bare fistfight. Porco barely manages to win, with Gina’s encouragement when she arrives. Porco hands Fio to Gina, to return her home, and is gifted a kiss by her. Porco and Curtis delay the airforce together; Curtis reacts with surprise upon seeing Porco’s face.
The HD transfer, provided as a 1080p24 video, was simply beautiful in so many ways. Colours of foreground objects were vibrant, contrasting perfectly with the background. Being traditionally animated, the HD transfer comes from film elements. I adore a good HD transfer of an anime from film and Porco Rosso is no exception. Grain is plentiful throughout the movie, adding texture to every colour on-screen, be it in characters or the background art. Noise is slightly noticeable on occasion, with little white speckles flickering; this serves only to remind you that you are watching a traditionally animated work of art. Too many times, I have been disappointed by excessive digital noise reduction in an attempt to make traditional animation seem pristine and flawless like the digitally animated works of today; thankfully, that is not the case here. The transfer is allowed to shine on its own merits, warts and all. We’re even treated to ever so slight destabilisation of the image, but only enough to make you appreciate that you are watching film, not so much as to give you motion sickness. The only downfall was the rather ugly pale yellow subtitles; thankfully, they, at least, contrasted well with the video.
Both the Japanese and English tracks are offered as uncompressed 2.0 PCM audio. Given the age of the film, 2.0 is acceptable; the mix is excellent, regardless of a lack of surround sound. Few scenes would have truly benefitted from a surround sound remix; that said, the dogfights would have been significantly more immersive. Both the English and Japanese tracks feature similar mixes, with SFX possible being slightly higher in the English mix. I watched most of the film in Japanese with subtitles but switched to the dub on occasion to sample it. Voice acting was commendable in the English track, being a Disney-produced dub, but the Japanese track was perfection. The score felt erratic to me at times, but that may have been intentional, in an endeavour to communicate the atmosphere of dogfights. Regardless, despite seeming erratic, the soundtrack did its job and enabled the movie to flourish.
As far as special features are concerned, we are treated to four that I would consider worthy of the title ‘special features’, and a poorly upscaled compilation of Studio Ghibli Collection trailers. The other features are significantly better. There is a collection of the original Japanese theatrical trailers, in gorgeous high definition, an interview with the producer, Toshio Suzuki, and a Behind The Microphone segment. The complete storyboards are also included, albeit as a picture-in-picture option only, whereas the American release by Disney features a full HD version of the movie using storyboards. Each has their own merits, but it would be nice to see a Studio Ghibli Blu-ray with the option of full-screen storyboards or picture-in-picture. Sometimes you want to compare how the film has evolved, sometimes you just want to marvel at the hand-drawn sketches that defined the film.
Porco Rosso was, as per usual with Studio Ghibli, a visual masterpiece, and a very entertaining hour and a half of viewing. The transfer was everything I wanted; STUDIOCANAL have impressed me again with a Studio Ghibli bluray.
Porco's story is simple, but is elegantly told through this movie, and whilst interesting to watch, I never really found myself developing an emotional connection to any of the characters.
Alas, I can't help but feel that Porco Rosso will forever be overshadowed by Hayao Miyazaki's The Wind Rises.