Okko’s Inn, the directorial debut of Kitaro Kosaka (a veteral Studio Ghibli animator), is a surprisingly sweet movie, adapted from a series of children’s novels by Hiroko Reiji. It has been licensed for the United States and Canada by GKIDS and was released in cinemas in the United States on 22 and 23 April 2019.
Oriko Seki, known as ‘Okko’, miraculously survives a car accident, but loses her parents in the aftermath. She moves to Hananoyu Inn where her grandmother lives and befriends a ghost named Uribo who encourages her to learn how to be an innkeeper. Along the way, she encounters another ghost named Miyo and a hungry little demon called Suzuki. Together, they learn the inner workings of running an inn while Okko comes to terms with her tragedy and matures as a person.
Plot and Story
Okko’s Inn is based on a children’s book series by Hiroko Reijo. It is a fun, pleasant film to watch because of its straightforward message based on its source material. What the film wants you to take away from it is that even in tragedy, everything will be okay as long as you persevere and work hard to build great relationships with people.
The film deals with death and loss by showing how Okko rebuilds herself into a capable junior innkeeper. Although she’s reluctant about the role at first, she gradually learns its importance through various interactions with guests. Her hospitality is tested on several occasions as Okko has to cook the appropriate food for each guest. In one instance, she helps a boy cope with his mother’s death by making a special dessert. She later befriends a disillusioned fortune teller, who recently broke up with her boyfriend, by creating a food set for her. Towards the end of the film, Okko’s Inn delivers much needed catharsis for Okko when she encounters someone involved with her accident, leading to a genuinely emotional moment. This is where we’re shown Okko’s growth from a passive little kid to a dutiful innkeeper maintaining the openness of Hananoyu’s waters and guest services. She reconciles with the tragic events that befell her and learns to move on with her life.
The supernatural elements of the film feature a great supporting cast that are sympathetic and fun to watch. There’s the two ghost children, Uribo and Miyo, Okko interacts constantly with, and a demon named Suzuki. As a result of Okko’s fleeting childhood innocence, her ability to speak with them gradually disappears. While their inevitable departure from her life is bittersweet, the film shows that they’re able to move on and leaves the door open for them to reunite in the future.
Okko’s Inn is a grounded version of Spirited Away with Ghibli-esque visual cues. While Okko and Chihiro have similar personalities, both realize that there are bigger things to worry about in life and they learn to help people with the assistance of supernatural beings. It takes a while for everything to settle in for Okko, but the emotional payoff towards the end makes her character development worth the wait. Director Kitaro Kosaka was an animation director at Studio Ghibli, so I’m sure he brought his knowledge and experience from there and applied what he learned to this film.
Okko’s Inn has a genuine moral message, great for both adults and kids. While it lacks any action or fast-paced moments, it makes up for it with some dramatic moments and whimsical scenes to keep things entertaining. Interestingly, the film was previously adapted as a television anime, and while it certainly feels like it was made for TV in some parts, the film version condenses its story well enough to execute a neatly paced script with an appropriate runtime. You don’t want to miss this touching, underrated movie of a young girl learning to grow up with the help of some playful friends.