Eye For Film >> Movies >> Okko's Inn (2019) Film Review
Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode
If you were an alien trying to learn about Earth from children's literature, you'd expect the average child to stand around a ten percent chance of losing both parents before reaching the age of 13. Orphans are everywhere in kids' books, a useful device for teaching all sorts of life lessons, from dealing with family strife to learning responsibility and asserting one's independence in the world. They also, not infrequently, have magical powers. In the grand scheme of these things, Okko's are modest, but they have a big impact on the course of her life.
It's during the car crash - a vivid, disturbingly realised experience that will rightly unsettle some younger viewers - that Okko first sees what she later learns is a ghost. Her happy family life torn away in an instant, she's dispatched to the countryside to live with her elderly grandmother. There she tries to come to terms with what has happened and return to the business of being a kid, but another experience interrupts this process. Okko's grandmother no longer possesses the vitality of her earlier years - she's struggling to manage and there's a risk that the inn might no longer be a viable business. "Don't worry," says Okko, volunteering to run it herself.
What follows is a story that draws heavily on the Japanese idea of finding satisfaction in work by discovering something one is good at and honing it to perfection. Nobody questions the fact that she's rather young to be taking on so much. She is completely out of her depth, but she has a secret weapon - the friendship of two ghosts who have been observing this kind of work for years.
Based on a popular series of children's books, Okko's Inn extends the origin story and picks up little incidents from different stories but is mostly concerned with capturing the (ahem) spirit of the tales, which works in its favour. It's a simple but lively tale with bright, attractively designed animation by Studio Ghibli alumnus Kitarô Kôsaka that will capture the imagination of young viewers. The rounded characters are full of energy (perhaps a little too much for older viewers, on occasion) and despite the undercurrent of grief, the overall mood is upbeat. Okko's experiences with the ghosts encourage her to adopt a different perspective on life and death, and to see herself as part of something bigger.
The film is also notable as one of two prominent animé works this year (the other being Children Of The Sea) to feature leading human characters of different ethnicities - something that might not seem like a big deal in the West but really is in Japan, whose deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso recently claimed has "only one race". With subplots around the age of the ghosts that encourage Okko to think about the value of connecting with people from different backgrounds, the film encourages an outward-looking stance that speaks to the beliefs of the country's new generation of creative talent.
The past year has been a strong one for animé and although Okko's Inn might not be the most dazzling work to emerge from it, it's still a lot of fun to watch and a great choice for kids.Reviewed on: 19 Jan 2020