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The Crimson Pig (Hayao Miyazaki) 1992


“A pig who doesn’t fly is just an ordinary pig,” says Crimson Pig, the aviator at the center of Japanese animation master Hayao Miyazaki’s The Crimson Pig (Kurenai no buta). Rest assured that the hero of this fairy tale is no ordinary pig, and this is no ordinary animated film. Resembling in its best moments a fanciful version of Casablanca with a porcine Bogey in the lead, the movie mixes espionage, dogfights, comedy, and romance with surprising grace. Unlike most of Miyazaki’s work, the setting here is quite specific, as the film takes place during the fascist turmoil of pre-WWII Italy. The evocation of the period is rich with detail, and the passing commentary on inflation, constantly changing governments, and the entry of women into the workforce lends a great deal of authenticity to the mood without sacrificing any of the film’s good nature. The ridiculous devaluation of money makes a big sack of cash, similar to those that have been seen countless times in other animated films, take on a satiric bent. The group of women of all ages from Milan that repair the Pig’s ship are both amusing and surprisingly competent, and the juxtaposition of their labor and a shot of the Pig rocking a baby’s cradle is downright hilarious. The multinational and cast seems to simultaneously reflect the way that Europe was changed by the First World War and point toward the universality of the film’s subject matter.


    The most surprising thing about The Crimson Pig, however, is the amount of warmth that it develops in the rapport between its characters. Most endearing is the gradual emergence of friendship between Crimson Pig and Fio, a young female engineer. Though at times their relationship feels oddly sexual, that dynamism only shows how complex it is when compared to most animated characters. The romantic longing of Gina, the restaurateur who has the misfortune of marrying pilots right before they go down in flames, strikes a stronger chord than one would expect from an animated work as well. The implication that she really loved the pig all along casts much of the film in the shadow of regret. The remainder is filled with breathtaking animated sequences that capture the sensation of flight better than even most live action movies. A thrilling take off that uses a canal for its runway is one of the film’s definite highlights, though there’s not a single sequence in the entire movie that fails to excite. Though children might not understand the film’s humor when Pig says, “I’d rather be a pig than a fascist,” I can think of few animated features that seem to have been built with broader appeal. Although compared to some of Miyazaki’s works The Crimson Pig might appear a bit slight, there’s little denying its appeal.


* * * 1/2 


Jeremy Heilman