Note: Review copy supplied by Manga Entertainment
Title: Okko’s Inn
Anime Studio: DLE / Madhouse
Publisher: Manga Entertainment
Genre: Children’s / Fantasy
Released: October 7th 2019
Language: Japanese / English
Length: 95 minutes
Extras: None on review disc
After losing her parents in a car accident, Okko goes to live in the countryside with her grandmother, who runs a traditional Japanese inn built on top of an ancient spring said to have healing waters. While she goes about her chores and prepares to become the inns next caretaker, Okko discovers there are spirits who live there that only she can see not scary ones, but welcoming ghosts who keep her company, play games and help her navigate her new environment. The inn’s motto is that it welcomes all and will reject none, and this is soon put to the test as a string of new guests challenge Okkos ability to be a gracious host. But ultimately Okko discovers that dedicating herself to others becomes the key to taking care of herself. The latest feature from famed anime studio Madhouse and director Kitaro Kosaka, who was a key animator on numerous classic films at the venerable Studio Ghibli, seamlessly blends immersive, idyllic landscapes with the storybook charm of Okkos beloved ghosts. Okko’s Inn delivers a rare ghost story that despite several floating characters is firmly grounded in the trials and joys of humanity.
Based on the series of children’s novels The Young Innkeeper is a Grade Schooler!, Okko’s Inn is the latest directorial effort from Studio Ghibli animation supervisor Kitaro Kosaka. From a visual standpoint, you can see the influence of his previous studio. While the character designs are kept fairly simple, everything feels quite whimsical. If anything, it feels like a children’s book come alive, which is no doubt what the aim was.
Where the movie shines is in its clear effort to teach the audience about grief. Losing a close loved one,, especially at a young age, is a complex thing. Through all the fantastical elements though, that is exactly what Okko’s Inn seeks to simplify. We see the idyllic life that Okko had, we witness the tragedy that took it away, and we watch her grow as she deals with her new life.
The way the story is set out may be a potential stumbling block for some though. Okko interactions with the various ghosts and guests play out like short episodes rather than a full story. While each is obviously interlinked, and each is important in the overall journey, I did feel like it was a little disjointed in that regard. I’d be interested to know if the anime series (from the same two studios) follows much the same plot but fleshes out the individual arcs a little more.
Even without this though, the cast of characters is certainly charming and varied enough. It’s very easy to get behind Okko and want to see her succeed. The overall lesson of asking for help and trying to work through such a terrible event should not be understated. This may not be perfect for all adults, but it is certainly an important one for children. For keeping everything, even the difficult moments, presented in such a child-friendly way, I give this one a 4 out of 5.