Self-Reflection in Porco Rosso: A Conversation with Hayao Miyazaki

The Birth of a Character

Interviewer: Gina, an addition to the original narrative of “Porco Rosso,” was a character unique to your film adaptation. Can you share your thought process behind this?

Miyazaki: Characters often surface without any particular reason. I find the spontaneity of a character’s appearance quite appealing, and I explore the ‘why’ of their existence in the unfolding story. It’s a reverse-engineered approach, you see.

At times, a youthful protagonist is the first to emerge on the storyboard. Anything added afterwards to explain her presence just serves as a post-hoc justification. For instance, our hero Porco would never encounter Fio unless driven by a purpose. Thus, to keep the storyline engaging, I felt the need to introduce another female character who crosses paths with him casually. I envisioned a restaurant where Porco could grab a bite, run by a woman. In the initial narrative arc, I had the eatery go out of business due to pirates wreaking havoc, pushing the woman to contemplate returning to her homeland. But a member of my team objected, stating it was too melancholic. As a result, the restaurant became a popular pirate hang out (laughs). The storyline and the characters thus evolve organically.

Interviewer: And what about Curtis, the American rival pilot? He underwent a transformation as well, didn’t he?

Miyazaki: Yes, my initial conceptualization of Curtis was of a much younger man. Yet, interestingly, many viewers perceive both Curtis and Porco to be of the same middle age.

Interviewer: I see that.

Miyazaki: Although he is youthful, Curtis is undeniably a fully matured character. Only well-rounded characters find a place in “Porco Rosso”. Similarly, Fio embodies an unwavering self-assuredness. Her decisions and actions aren’t about maturing through narrative events; she knows what she wants to accomplish and is firm in her identity. Her pursuit of Porco stems from a sense of professional obligation for her own creations rather than an affectionate attachment to him. Though, if she did dislike him, she probably wouldn’t accompany him (laughs).

The film explicitly portrays these nuances. Hence, it’s not targeted at those still exploring their selfhood and seeking encouragement. In this regard, the film excludes the younger demographic, as it was intended for middle-aged men and women, who, like the victims of the bubble economy, are grappling with their own experiences.

Interviewer: That could be a tough realization for the younger audience.

Miyazaki: Such is the outcome. The character Porco, who embodies the spirit of the 1920s, wouldn’t resonate otherwise. Porco, for me, encapsulates the modern history of Europe.

Even though our experiences pale in comparison to those of the people living in that era, we have experienced the glimmer of different times and faced our own setbacks, and we have grown older. As I was making the film, I couldn’t help but wonder how Porco would fare afterwards. Considering the turbulent times ahead from my understanding of European history, I think about the implications of World War II and the fate of characters like Fio. How did the Italian airplane factories navigate through the war? How did a woman like Gina, operating the Hotel Adriano, survive the war with Yugoslavia? These questions intrigue me.

Despite the grim realities of their time, I made this movie hoping to inspire vigor in people’s lives. It was not about rebellion against the fascist army and achieving catharsis.

During such tumultuous times, I wanted to depict characters who discern that petty matters are insignificant and remain true to themselves. Not in the sense of shouldering all the blame when a large-scale war or chaos ensues, or because they are also Italian and thus responsible. As individuals, they need to critically examine these circumstances, abstain from doing what they dislike, and not fall for nationalistic ideologies to the point of becoming victims. The responsibility of one’s soul lies with oneself. Porco is this kind of man. This is the attitude I think is essential for living in the present, and it resonated with me deeply.


On The Finale of The Film

Interviewer: According to audience feedback post-screening, there were many questions about the ending, especially regarding whether Porco returns to his human form or remains a pig for the rest of his life.

Miyazaki: Is reverting to a human form of such paramount importance? Is that the right interpretation?

Interviewer: Gina’s line, “When will your spell be broken?” has raised some eyebrows.

Miyazaki: An undeniably critical line. Yet, if Porco is destined to walk in daylight as a pig, I have made peace with that. It’s not a condition of my affection for him that he must transform back into a human. To my mind, it might even be more fitting to continue his existence as a pig. At times, my candid thoughts slip out, and he may project a serious demeanor, but I find a certain nobility in his decision to remain a pig until the end. Contrary to expectations, this story does not promise a happy ending where something is gained.

Interviewer: So, it’s past the point of gaining something to establish one’s ego?

Miyazaki: It’s about people who have already experienced a lot. People who carry a lot of irreparable things. Porco might be happy about Fio’s feelings, but that doesn’t mean all his dirt will be washed away, and he can start over and become pure. Only LDP members (Japanese politicians) think that purifying oneself will make them clean (laughs). I don’t think humans are more valuable than pigs. There are cases where worms are better than humans.

When I was thinking about “Princess Mononoke,” a story of a princess and an ugly mononoke, I tried to draw a picture where the mononoke turns into a human at the end, but it didn’t feel right at all. But when I redrew it so that the mononoke remained as he was, it was really refreshing. I thought, “This is it.” If the princess can’t love him unless the mononoke becomes human, she’s not good enough. (The story that eventually became “Princess Mononoke” underwent several revisions and changes from when Miyazaki first conceived it around 1980).

There might be times when Porco becomes serious, even human. But that doesn’t mean he would go straight to Gina’s and say, “Hello” … I don’t think he would. He might have had those days, but if Gina showed up, he’d turn into a pig again and fly away. I prefer the idea of him not forgiving himself. There’s a theory that after a few days, he’d go to Adriano’s pretending not to know anything and eat a meal as if nothing had happened. Some people thought he never showed up in front of them again. But I don’t mind if he shows up. I find the idea that Gina would love him once he turns back into a human much more distasteful. After a few days of lazing around, he might slowly start to turn back into a pig…

Interviewer: Sometimes he shows his human face, gets serious…

Miyazaki: Out of respect for the heroine, and considering Fio’s feelings, he indeed needs to become serious sometimes. That’s what he’s trying to recover. But no matter what she thinks, he can’t become her husband. What’s important is not whether he recovers or not. I think that’s okay.


I don’t want to make a movie about a pig turning back into a human. If I made that, you’d realize it’s a really distasteful movie. For me, the theme of “Beauty and the Beast” is something I’ve always wanted to do, but even if I do it, the beast remains a beast in the end.


Regarding The Closing Credits Illustration

Interviwer: The final illustration portrays a period following the invention of the airplane. Why is it that all entities depicted are “pigs”?

Miyazaki: It’s worth asking what flight has truly given us. One could argue that we should have stayed on the ground. Everything shines at the beginning of time. But once these things become part of capitalism, nation-states, and other earthly interests, they start to lose their glow.

Interviewer: So, the implication is its exploitation for war?

Miyazaki: Airplanes are not just toys that one can operate using spare change. They’re not vehicles for bounty hunters to declare their independence and live a life of sky piracy, correct? We fly with “missions”. Even the early airmail flights were conducted by honorable people, but ultimately, it’s just the transportation of mundane items like letters. It’s quite ordinary…

Even now, I maintain, the sensation that humans experience while in flight is not a lie. But I don’t think that’s all good. At the same time, they should have the self-awareness that it’s not a grand accomplishment. If one could evade the fate of becoming a “pig” simply by taking flight, such individuals would undoubtedly perceive themselves as heroes, but end up as mere crew members. Even if they haven’t shaped history in the way Hitler did, they are, in some way, complicit (when flying on a mission), and they cannot elude a certain bitterness and such.

Interviewer: They must also be aware of that triviality, right?

Miyazaki: Absolutely. For instance, the current generation in their twenties and thirties realize that the endeavors of adults, of society, of politicians are all consequential. Yet, they gold hold onto the excesses produced by these efforts. Let’s say their spouse proposes a three-day weekend – they feel obligated to do housework and incessantly express their love. This “gain” is the reward garnered by this society’s trivial old men, workaholic, hobby-less, and reeking of hair products, who are disregarded by younger women.

As these twenty-somethings approach forty and find themselves at the societal epicenter, they may aspire to decrease the triviality but rarely consider embracing a simpler life. They’ve come to expect certain amenities – lunch box shops, convenience stores, always available part-time jobs – as their entitlement. This, I believe, limits their growth. It’s a mindset evident in America, where consuming beyond one’s means is perceived as a human right. The influence of one’s era is not easily shrugged off – that’s what I mean when I say “victims of the bubble.”

If we’re talking about the feelings instilled in us by our circumstances, we are the same. Our generation grew up thinking that the ruins left by the war were natural, and that the world as it is would gradually improve. Even if various things happen, it’s best not to do anything. The more we do, the worse things get with remilitarization and such, so let’s stop. Yet, even while saying it’s trivial, we enjoy economic conditions, whether it’s getting a private car late, getting an air conditioner, owning a mountain hut. We kind of think it will work out. That’s why we are flustered when we come to a turning point in history. We’re facing the reality that we need to view humanity and history more sternly, more solidly than we think, that people don’t get smarter, they do the same things over and over.

Porco Rosso” is a movie made as a result of being flustered. The true starting point is emptiness, that’s the thirst. Without it, one’s life becomes a continuous chase of trends until it stops working. That, or we live in blissful ignorance. We’ve strayed from the movie talk (laughs), but this is the juncture our times have led us to. Even though the bubble economy has burst, stockholders believe they can recover if they endure. That’s not how it works.

Interviewer: So, it doesn’t mean things will get better if we stay quiet for a while.

Miyazaki: Although the downfall may not happen all at once, for those who predict it, it unfolds too slowly. For those who don’t, it happens abruptly. Ms. Tokiko Kato told her high school sophomore daughter, “You’re fortunate. Men will mature by the time you find a boyfriend. Job scarcity will humble them.” I found her assessment accurate.


Overcoming Generational Hurdles and Restrictions

Interviewer: Considering all this, “Porco Rosso” really is an ‘adult movie,’ isn’t it?

Miyazaki: It’s probably the film that left out young men the most. I never intended to make it convoluted, but it might seem hostile to those seeking a traditional catharsis. There’s no excessive fan service as usual, it’s not like our ‘uncle’ [referring to the protagonist, Porco Rosso] couldn’t afford that. If the pig were to transform into a human and everyone applauded, that would be dishonest. To seek such catharsis would be a mistake.

Interviewer: So, it’s not a film about middle age rediscovering its humanity?

Miyazaki: Humanity’s existence or recovery is not the primary concern. That’s not the point. Wasting your twenties believing it hasn’t begun yet, reaching thirty without accomplishing your duties, denying middle-age while suddenly growing old. Isn’t it commonplace to leap from boyhood to old age, bypassing the youth stage? This stage should be for self-discovery and setting out. Skipping it implies many irreversible losses.

My hypothesis is that the films I’ve made to date, such as “Nausicaa,” “Laputa,” “Totoro,” are letters to myself. They are addressed to all my generations, to my nonexistent childhood, high school days, and early childhood years, reflecting on how I aspired to be. That’s what “Totoro” was about. While making “Kiki’s Delivery Service,” I faced various struggles, so I made it while suffering and disparaging it. After completing the letter to all generations with “Only Yesterday,” which I made with Mr. Takahata, I decided to pen a letter in the present tense to my middle-aged self, who is lost, with “Porco Rosso”.

Interviewer: What comes next?

Miyazaki: I must persist, despite doubting whether I can accomplish what I’ve neglected due to lack of confidence. That’s the crossroad I’m at. Until now, I’ve prioritized realistic judgement, determining what to create within those constraints. Now, if there are constraints, I’ll break them. I’ll push the boundaries. Whether I possess that energy, that talent, I don’t know. But I feel like that’s all that’s left.

Interviewer: An entirely original creation, without a base. Has the creative intention solidified a bit?

Miyazaki: It’s like trying to solve a five or six-piece jigsaw puzzle, where each piece is enormous and everything’s in chaos (laugh). It’s overwhelming, but I think I have to do it anyway.

Interviewer: Can we expect something entertaining?

Miyazaki: Yes, definitely.

Interviewer: We look forward to seeing with excitement, what comes of it.

1 thought on “Self-Reflection in Porco Rosso: A Conversation with Hayao Miyazaki”

  1. Thanks for posting this. After watching Porco Rosso many times, it is interesting to read Miyazaki’s thoughts in regards to the transformation (or lack thereof) of Porco from pig back to human. I think most viewers assume he does become human again in the end, so seeing that Miyazaki may not agree with that assertion is intriguing.

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