Kurenai no Buta
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The Japan Times, July 28, 1992.
RED PIG RUSHES TO THE RESCUE
By MARK SCHILLING
Japan, as most of us know, has a deep-rooted cartoon culture and legions of devoted cartoon fans of all ages. Not only the kids, but Dad stretched out on the tatami with his Kirin and edamame watch manga on the tube.
According to a recent survey by A.C. Nielson, the highest-rated program for men aged 35 to 49 is "Sazae-san." "Chibi Maruko-chan" follows in seventh place, ahead of "Pro Baseball Sunday Nighter."
So it should come as no surprise that top anime director Hayao Miyazaki ("Tonari no Totoro," "Majo no Takkyubin," "Omoide Poroporo") has made a film aimed, as the director said in a memo to his animators, at "tired, middle-aged men." His film, "Kurenai no Buta (The Crimson Pig)," stars Porco Rosso, an Italian World War I flying ace of the porcine persuasion.
Though approaching middle age, Porco is hardly tired; instead, he flies his snazzy red hydroplane, scouring the skies for air pirates. The year is 1920 and the air space over the Adriatic Sea is infested with gangs of cashiered fliers who prey on cruise-ship passengers. Porco makes his living by saving the pirates' victims and collecting rewards.
Yes, Miyazaki's is a Mickey Mouse world, where history and reality take a partial vacation. But though the hero may be a pig, he is no cousin to Porky.
How many kiddie cartoon characters smoke cigarettes with a Continental insouciance, carry a torch for a thrice-widowed chanteuse, and live alone in a tent on a desert island, in a disillusioned retreat from the world?
And how many start life as a dashingly handsome man, in love with a pretty young girl (the chanteuse), and later decide, by means of unspecified magic, to grow a snout and triangular ears?
This, in other words, is no ordinary anime and Miyazaki is no ordinary anime director. Like that other master of the medium, Walt Disney, Miyazaki is something of a genius and something of a flake -- and sometimes it is hard to tell which is which. Was it the genius or the flake who decided to abandon his hugely successful chidren's anime, including "Totoro," for more "adult," "personal" themes?
Commercially, this move was an undoubted stroke of genius. "Omoide Poroporo," his first anime targeted squarely at adults, was a monster hit last year. Artistically, however, I have to wonder.
Stripped of its wonderfully realized animation, "Kurenai no Buta" is mock-Hemmingway pretentious, with Porco as a mucho macho Papa figure, and '30s B-picture silly, with a story that Barton Fink may have stolen from an "Action Stories" comic book.
The plot, such as it is, revolves around a rivalry between Porco and an Errol Flynnish American pilot who flies with the pirates. Defeated by his rival in a dogfight, Porco takes his battered plane to Milan. When he arrives at the repair hangar, he is greeted by the wizened proprietor and his saucy young grandaughter, Fio.
Fio, as it turns out, is an aircraft designer, and a good one. We know that Porco, the chauvinist pig, will refuse her services and that Fio will win him over at the end.
We don't know, however, that Grandpa will hire local women to rebuild the plane (all the men are away, working in distant cities) -- and that Porco will sit contentedly watching them, while absentmindedly rocking a cradle.
Here we see Miyazaki's knack for bringing a scene to fresh, vibrant life -- and for humanizing his cartoon heroes.
Then the plane takes off, with Fio aboard, and we head back to comic-book country. After the pirates ambush them at the island hideaway, Fio spunkily dresses down their leader (How dare he destroy the the plane they worked so hard to build!) and dares the American to fight Porco in an air duel.
This scene is both pulpy and primal; the very stuff of kids' fantasies and cartoons. And the showdown itself, with its clownish carnival atmosphere and its two "prizes" -- Fio for the American, a bag of loot for Porco -- is straight from TV-manga land.
But we also have the "serious" story of Porco's mysterious past (Why did he become a pig?), his ambiguous relationship with the chanteuse (Can she love him as a pig as much as she did as a man?) and his ongoing argument with the human race (Will he reject it or rejoin it?)
Unfortunately, this story is more atmospherics than substance. We begin to long for Porco to get on with it and take to the air again, for flight sequences are "Kurenai's" glory.
A confirmed aviation nut, Miyazaki has a true love of old planes and he and his team of animators have brought them to exhilarating life. Just as their hero risks everything in the air, they take the art of animation to new limits. The result is a beauty beyond mere realism. This is the way flying *ought* to look and feel. Miyazaki's amazing flying machines are an excellent reason to see this wildly swinging mood fantasy. There is no angst above the clouds.
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Asahi Evening News, July 24, 1992.
JAL, ANA Compete With Animation
(This article is from Asahi Evening News, July 24, 1992. It is a slightly abbreviated translation of an article which appeared on Asahi Shimbun evening edition, July 23, 1992. Enjoy!)
Stirred by the huge success enjoyed by Japan Airlines in screening the popular animated cartoon "Kurenai no Buta" (Crimson Pig), on its international flights, All Nippon Airways is to feature the just-released "Hashire Merosu" (Run, Meros), also a work of animation, on its international flights from Aug 1.
The competition in animated films is an extension of the fierce competition between the two airlines over improving business performance, recruiting new employees and expanding international flights.
ANA decided in the beginning of this month to screen "Hashire Merosu" on its international flights, instigated by the fact that JAL's "Kurenai no Buta" has proved very popular before and after release.
It decided on "Hashire Merosu," which was made by the Asahi Shimbun and other companies, for in-flight viewing during summer vacation. Whereas JAL participated in the production of "Kurenai no Buta" and screened it on its international flights prior to its release in theaters---a first, ANA will show "Hashire Merosu" one week after it hits the theaters.
Director Hayao Miyazaki wrote the original story and script for "Kurenai no Buta," which is an action romance about a middle-aged air force pilot who turns into a pig and fights air pirates while flying a crimson plane.
According to distributor Toho Co., the theaters showing "Kurenai no Buta" from July 18 have been full, with about 220,000 people seeing it in the first three days.
Director Masaaki Ohsumi wrote the script for "Hashire Merosu" on the basis of an original story by Osamu Dazai. As music director, Kazumasa Oda wrote the theme song. Singer Akina Nakamori recorded the voice of the heroine.
According to JAL and ANA, this is the first time that a movie has been available for viewing on flights prior to theater release and also the first time that a movie playing in theaters will be concurrently screened aboard airliners.
JAL estimates that 360,000 passengers will see "Kurenai no Buta" by the end of August, while ANA calculates that 120,000 passengers will enjoy "Hashire Merosu" up to the end of September.
According to those connected with movies, the two animated cartoons have big differences in style, but on the basis of their directors and staffs, they are both masterpieces dividing the animation world in two. It is hard to tell which will emerge victorious in the battle of the summer skies.
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Variety, July 24-30, 1995
File Review (pg71): Porco Rosso (Japanese)
By Lisa Nesselson
An AMLF release (in France) of a Le Studio Canal Plus/UCORE presentation of a Studio Ghibli/Nippon Television Network/JAL Cultural Development production. Produced by Toshio Suzuki. Co-executive producers, Yasuyoshi Tokuma, Matsuo Toshimitsu, Yoshio Sasaki.
Directed, written by Hayao Miyazaki. Camera (color), Atsushi Okui; editor, Takeshi Seyama; music, Joe Hisaishi, Toshiba Emi; production design, Katsu Hisamura; sound (Dolby), Naoko Asari, Makoto Sumiya; special effects, Kaoru Tanifuji, Tomoji Hasizume, Tokiko Tamai. Reviewed at UGC Odeon Cinema, Paris, June 24, 1995. Running time: 90 min.
Top-notch animation in the service of a dapper aviator hero -- who happens to be a pig -- and his mechanic -- who happens to be an appealingly self-assured teen heroine -- makes "Porco Rosso" a winning, ultimately bittersweet viewing experience for all ages. A major B.O. [boxoffice] hit in its native Japan, the pic took top honors at the 1993 edition of the biannual Annecy animation fest and was scooped up by Gallic powerhouse Le Studio Canal Plus, which hired the revered Jean Reno ("The Professional") to voice the title character for the French version.
Not unlike a milder version of Art Spiegelman's "Maus," pic uses a "naive" form to tell a sophisticated story, which opens in Italy between world wars, in 1929. It is never explained how, exactly, Marco -- founder of the Italian Aviators Club -- was transformed into a giant pig, known as Porco Rosso. He reveals only that he prefers "being a pig to being a fascist."
With his bright red open-cockpit hydroplane parked on the beach, the renegade flying ace lives in secret on a deserted island in the Adriatic, from which he takes flight to rescue victims from a band of air pirates. When his plane needs repairs, he entrusts it to longtime pal Piccolo, whose tomboyish granddaughter Fio is a gifted engineer-cum-mechanic.
She's cute, hardy and industrious, and also proves to be headstrong and fearless. Pic is brimming with positive female role models for young viewers, although story's melancholy tilt will have its greatest resonance for adults.
Sultry Gina, who sings at the classy hotel she owns while carrying a torch for Marco, adds a deep streak of sentimental longing to the tale. Mix in a vain and ambitious villain of an American pilot, the fascist secret police, and a band of air pirates with a code of honor -- and the ingredients are in place for a daring duel in the sky.
Animation, from the famed Studio Ghibli, has an impressive sweep and grandeur -- smoke, shadows, clouds and every aspect of soaring through the air in an open cockpit plane is lovingly detailed. Whether it's the bobbing Adriatic or the open sky, there's a full-bodied feel for movement and the same attention to "focal lengths," framing and editing as in the boldest live-action features.
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