motion picture is set over the Mediterranean Sea in an age when
seaplanes ruled the waves. It tells the story of a valiant pig,
who fought against flying pirates, for his pride, for his lover,
and for his fortune. The name of the hero of our story is Crimson
Like more and
more families these days, ours does not have TV. We do watch movies,
and even TV shows that we get from Netflix, but these are mostly
for my husband and myself. We don't want our 22-month-old son to
spend his childhood in passive receptivity of all that mainstream
media has to offer (and to his credit, he's usually more interested
in dismantling the remote anyway). He knows nothing of Barney or
Dora the Explorer, and it is my fervent hope that he never learns
about Sesame Street.
I do make a
few exceptions though, and one of them is for Hayao Miyazaki. For
anyone who is not familiar with this man, he is quite simply the
greatest living director of animated film. He is also one of the
greatest filmmakers, and I would even argue one of the greatest
artists, of our time. The creator of such works as "My Neighbor
Totoro," "Kiki's Delivery Service" and his masterpiece
"Spirited Away" puts American children’s filmmakers to
shame with works of breathtaking beauty, imagination and stories
and characters that respect the intelligence of children.
films, there is no attempt to "mold" my child's character;
no trying to "teach him a lesson," make him a better person
or help him grow up to make the world a better place. There are
values if you look for them, but essentially these films are just
plain fun. One of my favorites is Porco
Rosso. The story's hero is a freelance bounty hunter who
flies his bright red airplane around the Mediterranean hunting down
air pirates for cash. And yes, he is a pig. The film is great fun,
there are scenes that will literally take your breath away, and
the drama is as sophisticated as that of many adult films. But there's
something else. Around my third or fourth viewing, it dawned on
me that Porco Rosso is an anarcho-capitalist!
the film, we learn that Porco is wanted by the Italian government.
There are warrants out on him for "treason, illegal entry,
decadence, pornography and being a lazy pig." His former fighting
buddy begs him to come back to the air force where he had once been
a hero. "I could still get you in," he tells Porco.
"better a pig than a fascist."
daredevils are finished," says his buddy. "To fly now
you need a government or an airline to pay you."
fly on what I earn myself" Porco replies.
As his friend
gives up on bringing Porco back into the fold, he warns him: "be
careful. They won't bother with a court of law." And indeed,
Porco spends the rest of the film hotly pursued by the fascist secret
Of course the
exchange begs the question: If the government wants to throw Porco
in jail, and if he only flies on what he earns himself, then who
is it who is paying him to be a bounty hunter? Clearly it must be
the shipping companies themselves. This suspicion is given further
support when we see one of the luxury liners with its own fleet
of fighter planes trying to fight off a band of pirates.
It seems clear
that Porco is operating in a world where private agents — even those
who are themselves on the run from the law — are free to contract
their protection services out to other private agents. Maybe there
is a message to this film after all.
What a far
cry from our own world, where Somali pirate attacks have become
nearly daily news items. While some
private firms are beginning to offer
their services as guns
for hire on the high seas, many nations prohibit
the carrying of arms aboard ships that carry their flags, effectively
disarming shippers and creating floating buffets for the pirates.
Porco would sneer at this.
But then Porco
Rosso is the quintessential rugged individual; a lone, solitary
pig. When he makes a large cash withdrawal from the bank, the teller
asks him if he wants to make a contribution "to the people"
with a Patriot Bond.
a person," is Porco's terse reply.
his arms merchant warns him that the government may pass laws against
what he does, he replies "laws don't apply to pigs." (After
Porco leaves, the merchant's son asks "how's war different
from bounty hunting?" His father replies "war profiteers
are villains. Bounty hunters are just stupid.")
He even smokes
(yes, in a children's film!), drinks, and has sexist attitudes —
although that doesn't stop him from hiring the plucky young heroine
Fio to rebuild his airplane. But he is also a good friend, true
to his word and devoted to his childhood sweetheart. In the end,
we are charmed by him, a little envious of his freedom to fly around
the Mediterranean as he pleases, and a little sad for him in his
solitude — all things you'd hope for in a good adult movie with
real live actors (instead of drawings of a pig).
Rosso" is not unique among Miyazaki's work in this regard.
Adults will find his films as engaging and enjoyable as (and in
some cases more than) children will. And while some may be turned
off by the environmentalist themes of "Princess Mononoke"
and "Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind" (personally,
I've never been one to equate concern for the environment with support
for statist intervention, but that's just me) they should not let
this stop them from enjoying such films as "My Neighbor Totoro,"
"Kiki's Delivery Service," "Howl's Moving Castle,"
and of course "Spirited Away." Each of these films is
wonderfully crafted and unique. And if there is a message to any
of them, it is a message about self-reliance, loyalty, believing
in oneself and the value of hard work. Entrepreneurs frequently
feature as heroes, for instance in "Kiki's Delivery Service"
where a young witch seeks her fortune in a new city by starting
a broomstick-powered delivery service. In "Spirited Away,"
the heroine Chihiro is transformed through hard work and taking
much as it is a relief to watch children's films that portray doing
business, being independent and earning money in a positive light,
it is even more of a relief to find an entire selection of children's
films that are not aimed at manipulating children. For as well-intentioned
as all those films about making the world a better place may be,
they miss out on a fundamental truth both about filmmaking and about
childhood: both are good in and of themselves. They do not need
some external purpose to make them worthwhile, or some outside agenda
to make them more meaningful. And perhaps the secret to Hayao Miyazaki's
success is that he understands this simple truth. Because he has
given us films about flying pigs, enchanted bath houses and magical
woodland creatures, the world is already a better place.