Anime Review: Okko's Inn

By Drew Hurley 29.12.2019

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Okko's Inn(UK Rating: 12)


Kitaro Kosaka has an impressive resume, as he has created key animation for some of the greatest pieces ever seen in the industry. Not to mention acting as animation director on some even more amazing creations, including Howl's Moving Castle and Ponyo during his time with Studio Ghibli. While he has previously directed the anime adaptation of CLAMP's Clover. and a short OVA in Nasu: Summer in Andalusia, this is his movie directorial debut. He's adapting a story from a series of novels in Japan that ran over 10 years, which sees a young girl traumatically separated from her parents, before starting a new life as a "Junior Innkeeper" at her grandmother's traditional Ryokan off in the sticks. Coming courtesy of Manga Entertainment, this film is now available.
 
Never one to shy away from sensitive subjects, the medium of anime has long taken on topics that hit close to home for much of the audience, and this film deals with a topic that likely everyone watching it will have experienced in one way or another; loss, and the grief that comes with it. The protagonist of this story is the titular Okko. Upon opening, the film sees her visiting a festival with her parents, watching a traditional dance played out by children every year as her parents tell her how much they'd love to see her take part one year. That's not to be. As the family drives home from the festival, the parents natter to each other about Okko's grandmother. She's turning 70 and still running an understaffed inn, perhaps they need to go and help her, perhaps even take on running the place. This is not to be either.

 
An oncoming truck bursts through the guardrail, smashing into them headfirst. Okko somehow miraculously makes it uninjured, finding herself on the roof of her annihilated vehicle. Her parents aren't so lucky. There is nothing harder in life than the loss of a loved one, and this film tries to introduce the concept to a young audience. It's not particularly hard-hitting or depressing, with much of it dedicated to some magical fun as Okko's interactions with the afterlife aren't dedicated to her parents, but rather to a trio of supernatural beings.
 
When she arrives at the inn, she is met in her room by a bucktoothed young boy, floating high in the air and picking his nose. This ghost is a childhood friend of his grandmother and somehow played a part in saving Okko from the car accident. This ghost, nicknamed Uribo, pesters Okko into taking on some of the work around the inn, becoming a "Junior Innkeeper" to try and help her aging grandmother. This leads to her learning the ropes there, including a charming sequence where a girl from this generation has to learn old-fashioned Japanese chores and traditions. They'll be familiar to many in the audience thanks to this being such a reused setting or trope in anime. Walking and moving in a Kimono, cleaning the floors, how to bow and move around the guests. At the same time, Okko is growing closer to her ghostly friend and beginning to manage her grief. The only mention of her parents the occasional dream she has where they're still alive.
 
As Okko starts to return to a regular life, this also means going to school and waiting for her there is another Junior Innkeeper, with a ghost of her own. A fellow student in the same class, Matsuki is a snooty and arrogant tween with an obsession for victorian fluffy pink dresses. Matsuki is followed by another ghost, a little blond girl, though Matsuki has no idea. It's mentioned Okko can see these spirits thanks to her close call with becoming one. Matsuki's disdain for Okko's Inn brings the two to a clash. The new ghost turns out to be Matsuki's older sister Miyo and she doesn't much care for Okko at first either.
 
Okko continues to grow into her role, and becomes something of a mascot for the place, bringing in extra customers and revitalizing the staff - she even gets herself a group of friends. Those being the two ghosts, and an Oni that lived in a bell at the Inn (It's not really explained). Regardless of the hows of the supernatural beings, they're all helping her manage. Slowly but surely, Okko's beginning to get things together, until, just like in real life, a tiny moment can knock all of her progress backward.
 
These heavy-hitting moments that do a great job in expressing the reality of having an existential moment or major anxiety attack. While going on a drive, she catches sight of a familiar-looking truck and suddenly she can't breathe. Later a guest at the inn close to her accident sends her into a downward spiral. Produced by the venerable anime studio Madhouse, the art style mixes together some beautiful Ghibli-Esque backgrounds, with some generic and bland character designs. The huge eyes and uninspired designs look straight out of any weekly slice of life series from a far worse studio. It detracts from the stunning visuals that make up the rest of the experience.
 
6/10
Rated 6 out of 10

Good

Okko's Inn takes a light-hearted glimpse at a huge and dark subject, delivering it in a form that it can be easily understood by an audience the age of its titular subject. It's a nice enough, enjoyable little tale, with an impressive pedigree, but ultimately it's sadly quite forgettable, with no big moments or messages that will stick with the younger audience, and little that will land with the parents. Worth a watch, but it lacks the heart that has kept contemporaries still relevant today.

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