HBO Max has arrived, and while DC movie fans binge on Batman and Harry Potter heads return to Hogwarts, another group of geeks is likely heading straight to the streaming service's shiny new Studio Ghibli hub.
For the first time ever, almost the entire Ghibli library of anime movies is available to stream in one place, but there's one overlooked classic from the legendary Hayao Miyazaki that you absolutely need to watch, even if it's not getting top billing on HBO Max.
Pull up the Studio Ghibli hub (which is heavily promoted on HBO Max's homepage) and you'll see a familiar row of classics: My Neighbor Totoro, Spirited Away, Kiki's Delivery Service, How's Moving Castle, and Princess Mononoke. But you have to scroll down twice — past some lesser Ghibli films like The Secret World of Arrietty — before you find one of Miyazaki's best: Porco Rosso.
Here's why this story of a fighter pilot pig-man should be the first movie on your Studio Ghibli rewatch.
Released in 1992, Porco Rosso offers a perfect blend of action, humor, romance, fantasy, and pirates set against the backdrop of Italy at the start of World War II. It stars Porco Rosso, (Italian for the Red Pig) as an ace fighter pilot cursed to live as an anthropomorphic pig, who makes a living as a bounty hunter chasing "air pirates" on the Adriatic Sea.
Porco Rosso is based on Miyazaki's own watercolor manga The Age of the Flying Boat and was originally commissioned as an in-flight short for Japan Airlines. During production, it expanded into a 94-minute feature, but still aired on planes ahead of its theatrical debut.
The movie is also notable for being one of the few from Miyazaki set in our own world — pig-man and a few other flourishes aside. Thanks to its real-world backdrop, Porco Rosso is able to address political issues more directly, particularly fascism. "I'd much rather be a pig than a fascist," the protagonist says when offered a chance to rejoin the Italian airforce.
But above all else, Porco Rosso is a pure delight. Beautiful to look at and endlessly entertaining, it's an early showcase of Miyazaki's skills as a director and his love of aircrafts (a theme that returns in his 2013 film The Winds Rises).
So before you rewatch Totoro or Spirited Away, do yourself a favor and check out Porco Rosso. You won't regret it.
(Side note: Originally, this article was going to be about Grave of the Fireflies, one of the studio's first films from Ghibli co-founder Isao Takahata. It's one of the saddest movies ever made, about two Japanese children who fall between the cracks in society during the devastation of World War II. It's a beautiful piece of art, but for now, the only place to watch it is on Hulu, not HBO Max.)