Porco Rosso (1992)
Summary: Slouching towards middle age, Porco Rosso makes his living by flying about in his red bi-plane and fighting sky bandits who prey on cruise ships sailing the Adriatic. When he’s not engaging in dog fights, this pilot lives on a deserted island retreat. Porco was once a strapping young man, but after his entire squadron was wiped out, he is mysteriously transformed into an anthropomorphic pig.
Recommendation: Marco was an Italian pilot who now suffers the curse of being a pig. Socially this doesn’t appear to be an issue, but when it comes down to the law, the now-named Porco won’t be protected like humans. And the government wants him to do work for them in his red plane which needs a tune-up before long, taking him to the best mechanics and engineers in Milan, Italy, where, If caught, he faces imprisonment or worse. Porco battles sky pirates, earns an American nemesis, and deals with the weight of his personal history. While it talks about war, death, kidnappings, hostages, and even pugilistic beatings, it’s very funny. And so hopeful in the end!
Whisper of the Heart (1995)
Summary: A schoolgirl named Shizuku, who longs to discover her true talents, meets the mysterious Seiji, a boy who is determined to follow his dreams, and The Baron, a magical cat who helps her listen to the whispers in her heart.
Recommendation: This is the story of junior high school students in West Tokyo. Flirtations and crushes bloom into romances while the kids attempt to navigate their school work, family life, responsibilities, etc. Shizuku doesn’t know what she wants to do with her life beyond reading and writing, but it’s the conundrum with Seiji that fascinates her. He is going to visit Italy for the chance to train in woodcrafting violins like his grandfather. When will he come back? How long will he stay if he leaves? Why did he wait until now to admit he likes Shizuku? Is the Baron, a well-dressed cat statue in the antique shop, alive?
Princess Mononoke (1997)
Summary: Young warrior Ashitaka is able to put an attacking beast-god out of its misery, corrupted by sinister magic and transformed into a monster by a wound from a mysterious iron ball. Ashitaka has received a wound as well, which bubbles with supernatural putrescence, so he must travel far to the east seeking a cure. In Iron Town, Lady Eboshi employs freed prostitutes, former serfs, and even outcast lepers to build a human empire that will civilize the wilderness with iron and guns. In the forest, the wild gods gather their strength to fight back, led by San, the Princess Mononoke, a beautiful but savage girl who has chosen to give up her humanity and side with the animals. Ashitaka finds himself embroiled in a battle between the two forces, both of whom see him as supporting the enemy.
Recommendation: The main character followed through the movie is not the titular princess, but the last Ainu prince of the Emishi tribe. In saving his village from a raging demon-boar, Ashitaka is hurt on the arm, the burns infusing him with powers and pain. Fighting against time and his increasing debilitation, Ashitaka investigates the source of the boar’s spiritual pollution. In Iron Town, he encounters the inventive leader, Lady Eboshi, who is remorseless about the boar-god she shot to protect her people and investment. The feral princess raised by wolf-gods, San, now protects the forest from man’s invasion and infection. Will greed and weaponry ruin the forest? Will San kill Lady Eboshi before Ashitaka can come up with another solution?