Kitarō Kōsaka’s feature debut is rich, poignant, and beautifully made.
Children’s films dealing in grief can be a tricky situation. Yes, just about every Disney protagonist has lost one or both parents but they never really deal with it in a world that is real and relatable to young people, or address the healing process a person must go through. Okko’s Inn, a wonderful new anime film from Studio Madhouse, approaches the topic in a way that feels natural, full of heart, and leaves you with a smile.
The film is the story of Oriko “Okko” Seki, a young girl who loses her parents in a tragic accident and goes to live with her grandmother at a traditional Japanese hot spring inn. The aftermath of the accident has also had a strange effect, as Okko can now see ghosts. At the urging of a young boy ghost Uribo, a childhood friend of Okko’s grandmother, Okko takes on the role of the junior innkeeper, trying to learn how to run the inn and please guests with various mishaps along the way.
Okko’s Inn is a delightful and emotional journey. It deals with themes of loss and grief in a way that never talks down to its intended young audience, balancing the heavier themes with joy and wonder. One scene, in which Okko rides in a car for possibly the first time since her parent’s accident and has a panic attack, is painfully true and heart-breaking to watch, addressing the lasting affect and the reality of that kind of loss and loneliness.
There is also a secondary theme of hard work and doing your best which is nicely handled, and we get to see Okko’s character growth – with the help of her new otherworldly friends – into someone who is more capable of handling things and who may be able to face saying goodbye to her life with her parents. Okko’s grandmother is strict but loving, clearly an expert in hospitality and wants to pass that on to Okko. All the characters are simple, but still rendered beautifully. Even stuck up rich girl Matsuki has some substance and isn’t just a one-note character.
This is director Kitarō Kōsaka’s first feature length movie. His first major directing credit was a 45-minute cycling film Nasu: Summer in Andalusia which was based on a manga recommendation by Hayao Miyazaki became the first Japanese anime film to be selected for the Cannes Film Festival. His other work as a key animator and animation director has been on various Studio Ghibli movies, including Spirited Away, my personal favourite Whisper of the Heart, and The Wind Rises, as well as films such as Akira and Metropolis. So, it’s an understatement to say that this is a guy who knows his stuff when it comes to animated filmmaking, and the story that is crafted here is sweet and mature with animation that is bright and smooth if maybe not quite as artistic as recent films such as A Silent Voice, Mirai, or Your Name. It’s the characters and story that really give the film its impact and makes us feel a part of the world. I look forward to seeing what Kitarō Kōsaka will do in future, as this is a very good start to a feature film career.
Whilst not the greatest example of the artistry that the anime industry is capable of, Okko’s Inn is a lovely film and a worthwhile watch.
It’s the end, but the moment has been prepared for…
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