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The Adriatic, 1929-the Balkans may go up in flames at any moment, and the Fascists are on the rise in Italy. Mercenary pilots, survivors of the last Great War, work for hire defending transports from marauding pirates, and Marco is the best of them. But as his idealistic youth fades behind him, the former handsome flyer has undergone a strange transformation. He has literally turned into a pig, but nobody seems to mind, least of all him. His life is tranquil and simple; he owns a tiny island and when he isn't flying, he's dozing on the beach with his radio, a newspaper, and a cigarette, or he's meeting his childhood friend, Gina, now a beautiful widow. But Marco's own world is tipped out of balance by the arrival of an American cad, Curtis, who sets out to make his name by shooting down the Crimson Pig. Taking his beloved plane to Milan for repairs after their duel, Marco meets the irrepressible Fio, just 17 but already an aircraft designer of formidable talent. He also finds the secret police are on his tail, along with a gang of angry aerial pirates who want Marco out of the sky for good. Fio mollifies the pirates by appealing to their sense of pride, reminding them that it took an American to shoot down Marco. The pirates, mortified at this threat to their Italian spirit, wager on a rematch, with a victorious Marco winning the costs of his repairs, whereas a victorious Curtis (already rebuffed by Gina) would win the hand of Fio. As the Italian air force arrive to break up the illegal match, Marco and Curtis prepare to hold them off while the others escape. An epilogue implies that Marco has returned to human form, and that he and Gina live happily ever after.
Miyazaki's most "adult" film, initially conceived for an audience of middle-aged men who had forgotten their youthful aspirations, PR was the fourth-biggest animated box-office draw ever in Japan, beaten only by two Pokémon films and Princess Mononoke. By turns touching, comic, romantic, and edge-of-the-seat gripping, it is a grown-up's fantasy with a child's directness and innocence. It reflects many of its creator's passions and obsessions and also restates many of his central themes, yet the film has its own freshness and originality. Based loosely on a three-part series Miyazaki wrote in 1990 for Model Graphix magazine, PR was originally planned as a 45-minute in-flight feature for Japan Air Lines. Eventually produced as a full-length movie, a dub was prepared for the English-language audio channel on JAL flights, and subsequently broadcast on British TV. The idea of porcine transformation would return in Miyazaki's Spirited Away in which a girl must restore her parents to human form.