Hayao Miyazaki, the great Japanese cartoonist, one of the greatest figures in world cinema, awarded the Goldener Bär, the Academy Award and the Leone d'Oro for the Career, reduced to an empty slogan of the Italian Left. This was one of the aftermath of Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni's visit to Tunis, during which some local protesters raised signs reading 'better pig than fascist.' A motto also echoed by Giorgia Linardi, spokeswoman for the NGO "Sea Watch," at the end of one of her editorials on La Stampa.
The quote "better pig than fascist" is an excerpt from an exchange of jokes between the protagonists of the film Porco Rosso directed by Hayao Miyazaki in 1992. This film is an authentic and profound homage of the Japanese director to Italy and Italian aviation, of which he is passionate and a fine connoisseur. The filmmaker had already had dealings with Italy: in the early 1980s he had worked with RAI and Studio Pagot (Calimero) to make the series Il Fiuto di Sherlok Holmes a co-production that demonstrates the vitality of public TV in those days (and from which perhaps one should start again). Porco Rosso, despite its poetry and Italian setting was pretty much ignored in the Bel Paese until its distribution almost two decades later, in 2010, when where it could finally be appreciated by its target audience. Except, however, it became a kind of Resistance holy card, with the line "Better pig than fascist". A quote that allowed the world of Japanese animation and comics to be hailed by leftist intelligentsia, who since the late 1970s had viewed it with snootiness, suspicion and prejudice.
But the intelligentsia's infatuation with manga and anime was short-lived, and only the line "Better pig than fascist" remained. Otherwise, except in a few cases, Italian culture - leftist but not only - has begun to snub if not loathe the world of Japanese animation again. It is no coincidence that no one, on the centenary of the Arma Azzurra, thought of inviting to Italy the director of the most beautiful film about Italian wings ever made...
The national culture has its nose on the air with regard to Japanese animation, since the "invasion" of TVs by anime: in 1978 it was the sociologist Giampaolo Fabris who lashed out against the intrinsically fantastic dimension of Japanese cartoons, criticizing Japanese animation from the pages of L'Unità for the irruption on television of "the magical, the irrational" and "archaic values". Then a few months later it had been the turn of Democrazia Proletaria deputy Silverio Corvisieri to criticize from the pages of La Repubblica the poor Grendizer because it celebrated: "the orgy of annihilating violence, the cult of the devolution to the great fighter, the religion of electronic machines, the visceral rejection of the 'different' (whoever comes from other planets is always a hateful enemy...)."
But almost 40 years after those stereotypes against "the invasion of Japanese entertainment" (and its values), it does not seem to have changed the tune. Just look at the editorials that try to explain the success of works such as the comic book One Piece, which is the best-selling typographic product in Italy. The editorials full of clichés are back. In 2021, even Veltroni also fell for it from the pages of Corriere della Sera. And last April it was the turn of Antonio D'Orrico, also on the Corriere, singing the glory of Manara and Eco against another successful manga like Demon Slayer.
However, what is Porco Rosso and why should Italy's culture rediscover an author like Miyazaki, who has continued to honor Italian History in other films as well? This writers discussed this in the volume Gli assi del volo italiani: Mario Visintini, da Parenzo all'Africa orientale italiana. Vita e imprese di un eroe del volo, edited by Emanuele Bugli and Lorenzo Salimbeni (Associazione Coordinamento Adriatico APS). Hayao Miyazaki is considered Japan's greatest animation director and among the world's greatest. Porco Rosso is not the only work in which Miyazaki talks about planes and Italy, two themes that-sometimes in tandem-run through much of his work. Starting with the very name of the animation studio he opened with his colleague, Isao Takahata in 1985, called "Studio Ghibli" after a Caproni plane. The story of Porco Rosso is about a veteran who is unable to reintegrate into postwar society: former Great War pilot Marco Pagot. Marco was disfigured in battle and now has a face that resembles that of a pig. After the conflict he is a bounty hunter in the skies over the Adriatic in a red seaplane, foiling hijackings by "air pirates" on commission from shipping companies. Hot on Marco's heels comes the fascist police, who no longer tolerate troubleheads in the Italian skies and demand a return to the ranks. Also, a rhodomont American pilot, Donald Curtis, hired by the air pirate mafia to get him out of the way. The affair proceeds in a tourbillon of escapes and chases, duels over women, money and reputation, and all set in a 1920s Italy between industrial warehouses on Milan's Navigli canals and villas on the great subalpine lakes.
As with the more famous John Rambo, Porco Rosso's story is about veterans who refuse a return to normalcy (that "better pig than fascist" is to be read much more in that sense than in an ideological key). And it is no coincidence that the protagonist is rescued from the fascist police by his friend Arturo Ferrarin (a historically existing character), who is greeted with a "hello, comrade" during his escaping. In other words, the complexity of Porco Rosso's story reduced to that one sentence taken out of context sounds just like profanity in church.
In short, Miyazaki is an author who does not deserve to be enlisted in trivial rowdiness. Instead, it would be important to approach his oeuvre with respect, trying to understand its facets, to grasp the profound and universal messages he has delivered to his audience. Although it is possible with some effort to frame Hayao Miyazaki in the category of "leftist," the Japanese director's pacifism and anti-fascism diverge profoundly from how we understand them in Italy and the West today. In particular, Miyazaki's pacifism is not a passive "repudiation of war" but an acknowledgement of the need to fight for peace and for what is right; Miyazaki's ecologism is tinged with Shintoist and perhaps esoteric suggestions and shot through with an underlying pessimism about the relationship between man and nature, which became all the more acute as he matured artistically.
Courage, sense of duty and sacrifice, love of family, nature, history, justice and freedom are just some of the universal values advocated by a master like Hayao Miyazaki. It is a crime for Italian culture to leave him in the hands of people who can at most poorly extrapolate a line from one of his films.
Editor of the Machiavelli Study Center's blog "Belfablog," Emanuele Mastrangelo has been editor-in-chief of "Storia in Rete" since 2006. A military-historical cartographer, he is the author of several books (with Enrico Petrucci, Iconoclastia. La pazzia contagiosa della cancel culture che sta distruggendo la nostra storia e Wikipedia. L'enciclopedia libera e l'egemonia dell'informazione).
Essayist and popularizer, among his publications Alessandro Blasetti. Il padre dimenticato del cinema italiano (Idrovolante, 2023). With Emanuele Mastrangelo Wikipedia. L’Enciclopedia libera e l’egemonia dell’informazione (Bietti, 2013) and Iconoclastia. La pazzia contagiosa della cancel culture che sta distruggendo la nostra storia (Eclettica, 2020).