紅の豚 Kurenai no Buta (Porco Rosso) 1992

Porco_Rosso_(Movie_Poster)  When I was a young child I had the pleasure, without even knowing it, of growing up with one of Hayao Miyazaki‘s most famous films My Neighbor Totoro (1988). My mother remembers how upset I was when she gave the film away, and to this day it remains one of my favorites. That being said, when I was seventeen I started watching and exploring Miyazaki-san’s other films out of curiosity. Over the last five years I have come to love all of his movies, but it took time for me to appreciate each one. This film in particular I have come to cherish because of its gentle nature and bright humor, but I had quite a negative opinion of it before I watched it. At first I refused to acknowledge this film because it looked ridiculous, but against  my “better” judgment I saw it with my family when they bought a copy of it at a yard sale. I discovered that I shouldn’t base my opinions on what I see on the surface of a cover and that this film, like people, was much more complicated than it initially appeared.



Hayao Myazaki’s animation style is one of the most beautiful, dynamic and artistic I have ever seen. Throughout all his films, even ones as old as Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (1984) and  Laputa: Castle in the Sky (1986), there is a rich, vibrant wholeness, or liveliness that persists from beginning to end. Porco Rosso is no exception. In a word, this film is magical. Everything from the colors, to the shadowing, and the movement of the characters blends perfectly with the story. It is rather interesting that this film is placed right before World War II in the Adriatic and Italy, but has such a colorful, lighthearted look and feel to it. Personally, I thought that it made it all the more endearing to know that when the world was falling into chaos there were still places that could shine so brightly.



I have never encountered a story like this before. {I seem to say this about all of Miyazaki-san’s movies. . .} Placed in the Adriatic during the 1920s, the film focuses on the life of a man who calls himself Porco Rosso. In the beginning, we are taken to an enclosed private beach where Porco receives a call from his employer to catch some pirates who have attacked a ship. He uncovers his face to show that he is completely normal, except that he has the face of a pig. Being presented with a less then beautiful, flawed protagonist we are thence swept off into the life of sea plane pirates and the Adriatic. From beginning to end people do wholly unexpected things. Some cross gender roles and others like the pirates are shown as honorable, quirky people. Is there a conflict between good and evil? Yes, but not in a way we are familiar with in modern film. There is no villain in this story; there are only people, who are flawed of course but still needed and important. The thing that makes this story so magnetic is it simple complexity. Like in many of his other films, Miyazaki-san not only showed moments of high adventure but also stopped and took the time to show the beauty of the sunset on the ocean or ponder or the natural elegance of Gina’s garden. Most importantly perhaps was the change evident in all the characters. It is extremely difficult to truly capture a character’s transformation at the end of a film and harder still to show it’s progress. Miyazaki-san captured this growth masterfully in ways that many animating directors cannot because they are so focused on keeping their audience entertained.

20130812-161255 porco-rosso-4


It is too difficult to explain the character’s complexity as a whole. They are all so real that when I stop watching the movie it takes me a while to realize that they aren’t real people. I will try to explain it by looking at two of the main characters.

First, there is Porco, or Marco, Rosso. He is what some would call the reluctant hero in the broadest sense but to me he was much more intriguing than that. Though he seemed to openly accept his transformation and to not care about anything beyond his own affairs, he opened himself up enough to show that he carried terrible burden of guilt and cared more for people then he is willing to admit. For example, after being the sole survivor of a terrible air fight during World War I he caught a glimpse of many different planes, all of different nationalities, flying toward heaven. He watched as his best friend passed by him and without any control over his aircraft descended away from the other ethereal planes back into the real world with the face of a pig. It became clear that he accepted his appearance because he believed he deserved it. How did he change? For me it was when he decided to fight for another person rather than for himself. Before then he had closed himself off from everyone around him, even his childhood friend Gina whom he had clearly loved for some time but was unwilling to admit it.

Another character that I particularly like is Gina. From the moment she was introduced as the gracious, beautiful hostess of the Hotel Adriano singing “Le temps Des Cerises” (The Time of Cherries) I felt that she was silently grieving. After losing four husbands to war and aerial accidents it was clear that she had grown numb to her heart ache. It was strange watching her at times because she seemed to drift away from you. Yet, despite this sadness that burdened her she was still a strong person. When she passively remarked to the brash, young pilot Curtis that she was still waiting for the man she loved, Porco, to meet her in her garden I couldn’t help but wonder if she would no longer willingly pursue what seemed impossible. Happiness, apparently was something that she was willing to wait for if it meant that she did not have to fight against a world that had robbed her too many times before.

I doubt I am giving these characters justice. For me, the fact that it is so hard for me to understand them is a compliment. It means that they are more than your basic off the shelf prince charmings or damsels in distress. This is the same for all of the characters in the film. Honestly there isn’t a dull copy, cut-out character in the entire movie. That is something that I thoroughly appreciate. 


MUSIC: 5/5

I won’t say too much about the music in this review. I am a fan of Joe Hisaishi‘s, or Mamoru Fujisawa’s beautiful style and enjoy all of the soundtracks he has composed. He captured the light, almost subdued feel of the movie wonderfully. There isn’t much to say other than he is one of the many geniuses like Hans Zimmer whose talent is irreplaceable.


I love this film and recommend it for everyone. Some of his other films I wouldn’t just because many people are averse to more foreign films. It is funny and wonderful to watch and I hope that people won’t quickly dismiss it because of where it comes from or because it is different.



[Curtis and Porco have run out of ammo when Curtis attempts to shoot Porco with a revolver]

“I refuse to end this match with a draw!”

“Hahaha… This isn’t a Western, you can’t hit me from there.”

[One of the bullets hits the side of Porco’s plane]

The Book Thief (2013)

the book thief

When I heard that Markus Zusak‘s infamous work The Book Thief would be made into a movie I was intrigued and skeptical. Usually, movies based on popular books are mediocre, like The Tale of Despareaux 2008, or unbearable to watch (like Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief)There are of course exceptions like Life of Pi 2012, and the first two Harry Potter movies made subsequently in 2001 and 2002, however these movies are anomalies. Why is this? I believe that it is because the conversion process from book to film is extremely difficult. Film makers are faced with the wearisome task of changing a story that uses words as an artistic medium to a story that uses sight and sound (music, dialogue, background) as a mode of expression. It comes down to whether the film creators are able to capture what readers imagined and experienced when they read the book. 


The question, “What does it mean to be human?, formed the basis of this story.  The purpose of this film, as it was in the book, was to capture the meaning of human existence during a time when the absolutes and truths that people had lived with since even before their time twisted into ideas and philosophies they couldn’t recognize or understand. I found, when I read the book at least, it curious and thought-provoking that the story centered on characters in the heart of Nazi Germany, where people disassociate such humane characteristics as kindness, love, and morality. Perspective forced me to look beyond what I already knew about Nazi Germany into the very depth of such an evil entity, and that was where I came to know beautifully flawed human beings whose deaths and sorrow struck me at my very core. Did the movie capture this idea? Yes and no. There were moments, like when Rosa sat crying on the bed when Hans left to fight holding his accordion that I felt that beauty and heart stopping realness from the book. Yet those moments seemed fleeting and often times they couldn’t grasp that authenticity, though they tried. Never in the movie did I feel that I looked into the heart and soul of any of the characters.


I liked the feel of this movie. The darker colors and the way they transitioned from scene to scene fit the mood of Nazi Germany and the environment Leisel grew up in. Of course there were times where I think they could have done better. One scene in particular that comes to my mind is when Liesel ran through the crowd of Jews looking for Max. The slow motion and overall execution seemed too much. I thought it took away from the simplicity and tenderness of such a moment. Though it wasn’t perfect, I still felt that the shooting of this film was excellent.

Characters: 3/5

I liked the actors and actresses, however I saw them as characters, not people. Never did I feel I was given the opportunity to really know them. All I could do was see their outer shell and sometimes maybe look through a tear in their defenses and see some of the pain hidden there. What could have changed this? I think they should have shown their flaws more profoundly. Why? Because human beings are flawed. They make mistakes. Children especially have so much to learn as they develop and change into adults. How do they get there? By making mistakes. That isn’t to say that I didn’t appreciate the beauty and kindness of the characters. No that wasn’t it.  Here was the difference. When their deaths came in the book I felt as though a part of me had been ripped out; as though I had lost my most precious friends or family members. I wept for them because they were so alive. I had come to know them so intimately that when they were gone it broke my heart to know that they could no longer play the accordion, steal food and books, paint themselves black, mourn the loss of their sons, and wish to kiss the girl they had loved for years. With the movie it was different. When they died, I felt as though I was saying goodbye to a neighbor or maybe an acquaintance. I cried of course but it wasn’t the same. I didn’t know them well enough.

MUSIC: 4/5

The music captured the mood of this movie very well but I was left wanting more. John Williams is an excellent composer. Some of the films he has written for include masterpieces like Star Wars, the Indiana Jones series, the Harry Potter films and Lincoln and other well known classic films like E.T. and Jurassic Park. Did he deliver in this film also? Almost. I didn’t particularly notice the music unless the attention shifted from the characters to a scenery or event. Essentially, the score was beautiful but not a masterpiece.


I did not hate this movie. However, I did not love it either. If I was to recommend either the book or the movie I would instantly choose the book. The book shows why living is such a beautiful thing. It personifies life and it uses death as a modem between what is thought to be truth and what actually is truth. The movie didn’t master this idea but I think more will read the book because it was made.



Rudy Steiner: Are you coming?

Liesel Meminger: Where are you going to?

Rudy Steiner: Isn’t it obvious? I’m running away.

Liesel Meminger: Have you thought this through?

Rudy Steiner: Ya. I don’t want to die. There – all thought through.