Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Porco Rosso 3: In the Minds of Women

In the previous post I argued that, while it may be natural to see Pagot’s porcine appearance as a symbol or metaphor for his nature, such a reading is implausible. He’s not fundamentally piggish. He’s alienated, but that’s not, in any ordinary sense, piggish. Pagot’s appearance seems more an index of his relationship to society (e.g. the warlike regime) and to others than an index of his character.

Now I want to consider, at one and the same time, a thematic issue and a technical one. The thematic issue concerns Pagot’s relationship with women. The technical one is about how Miyazaki deploys his virtual camera.

Consider this shot, which is roughly two-thirds of the way through the film:

porco fio sees marco

We’re on Porco’s island hide-out. The woman in the sleeping bag is Fio, the young engineer who redesigned Porco’s plane and who has accompanied him to the island so that she can make adjustments as needed. Who is that man?

That’s Marco Pagot appearing, not as an overweight middle-aged pigman, but as a handsome and slim middle-aged man. The camera moves in for a close-up and, in the process, assumes Fio’s point of view:

porco fio sees marco2

She speaks to him: “Porco…” He replies: “Hmmm? You can’t sleep?” As he replies he looks at her:

porco fio sees porco1

He’s now Porco. The camera moves back behind Fio and thus out of her point of view:

porco fio sees porco2

And they continue talking. Porco tells her how he came to be a pig.

But that story is, at this point, a secondary matter. What interests me is what we’ve seen.

In the first place, we’ve seen Porco as Marco Pagot, a human being. This isn’t the first time we’ve seen that. Early in the film, when Porco was eating in the back room at Gina’s restaurant, we saw a photograph of Marco as a young man. About half way through the film Gina remembers a seaplane flight with Marco. He’s piloting the plane and she’s behind him, the wind blowing her skirts away from her body. He turns around to look at her and is embarrassed to see her legs:

porco young porco & gina

Gina knew Marco before he became Porco and she’s the only one in the film who knew him in his youth. She and Fio are the only people in the film who have seen Porco as a man, Marco. Fio has no direct knowledge of his past, but sees him as a man in the present, if only for a minute. Gina remembers him as a man, though she doesn’t see him as such in the present.

That these two women are the only people in the film who see Porco as Marco is surely important. But I want to set that aside until later. I want to think about what we see on the screen.

What we see, for a moment, is a man, not a pig. By this time in a film we have become thoroughly accustomed to the Pigman. If his appearance was a little strange in the beginning, it isn’t now. Thus, it comes as a shock, albeit a minor one, to see a human face.

Why? Why just now? What’s it signify?

Whatever the answers to those questions, the questions wouldn’t arise if Marco had been presented as a human throughout the film. The device of presenting Marco as Porco thus affords Miyazaki the opportunity of playing this little trick on us, and on Fio as well.

What’s particularly interesting is that, for a moment, the camera is positioned so as to occupy the position in space where Fio’s head is. We are seeing Pagot, then Porco, through her eyes. Miyazaki rarely uses a subjective camera. He places the camera wherever it needs to be to get the shot he wants. In this film, with its aerial combat, the camera is often somewhere in mid-air. But it in this one scene, it’s in the consciousness of one of the characters. We are seeing Porco, not as the world sees him, but as Fio sees him.

* * * * *

Let’s recap: Early in the film, in Gina’s restaurant, we see a photograph of Marco before he’d become a pig. That tells us that he wasn’t always a man with a pig’s head and thereby makes us curious about how he became a pig. We now expect the film to tell as that. Later in the film Gina recalls those early days, telling us just a bit more about Pagot’s past and her relationship to him. By that time it is clear to us, if it wasn’t before, that she is in love with him, but he doesn’t reciprocate, though he remains a loyal friend. Now, a third of the way through the film, another woman, a younger woman, sees Pagot as a man. Afterward they have this conversation:
Fio: Porco! What if I try kissing you?

Porco Rosso: Huh?

Fio: You know, like the fairy tale where a prince is turned into a frog and a princess turns him back into a human by kissing him.

Porco Rosso: Silly. Save it for something important!

Fio: Don't you like me?

Porco Rosso: Of course, you're a nice girl. Seeing you makes me wish I were human again.

Be a good kid and go to sleep.

Fio: Tell me a story and I will.
And he tells her the story. Though not particularly complicated, it’s just complicated enough that I’m not going to attempt to summarize. It’s enough to know that the story was about his service in World War 1. He flew in the same unit as his best friend, who’d married Gina. He survived; his best friend did not. Gina was thus a widow and Pagot became a pig. Fio’s father also flew with Pagot; he survived the war and told Fio about Pagot, for example: “I like the story about the time when Captain Pagot landed in a raging sea to save the life of an enemy pilot. I've heard it often.”

Now we know, more or less, how Pagot became a pilot. We may not quite understand the story, not at the level of rational explication, but it makes emotional sense. We can now watch the rest of the movie with that issue settled.

What follows is an aerial duel with Curtis. If Curtis wins, he gets to marry Fio. If Pagot wins, Curtis pays the bills Pagot incurred to refit his airplane after Curtis shot him out of the air. The aerial battle is a draw, but Pagot wins the subsequent fist fight.

Of course, things are not quite that simple. What we can see at this point is that what we see of Pagot as a human, we see through the eyes of women, Gina and Fio. What we know of his past, we know through women, what Gina tells us and what he tells us at Fio’s urging.

Taking yesterday’s post into consideration, Miyazaki is using this device – protagonist as Pigman – as a device through which he distinguishes his protagonist from society at large, which is taking a Fascist turn, and through which he establishes a peculiar intimacy with women. Given their age difference, there’s nothing peculiar in his indifference to Fio’s overtures – though the evolutionary psychologists might disagree – but his distance from Gina, whom he clearly values as a friend and who clearly loves him, that’s just a bit peculiar. As if in acknowledgment of that, Miyazaki provides a coda which allows one to imagine that, yes, Pagot finally responded to Gina’s love.

* * * * *

There’s more to be said, but I’m not sure I’m ready to say it. My basic objective has been to show that Miyazaki is doing some interesting things around and about Porco’s appearance and that one can’t understand those things by wondering what that appearance might symbolize. Something else is going on. These posts have been a preliminary attempt to describe it.


  1. Thanks for share your reflexions. Reminded me how great the movie is.