Certified critic on Rotten Tomatoes. Member of the Houston Film Critics Society. Also writes for Bounding Into Comics and GeeksHaveGame.
But Ghosts Can Flick Boogers
Okko’s Inn or Waka Okami wa Shōgakusei! is based on a set of Japanese children’s novels, which spanned 20 volumes and were originally published between 2003 and 2013. It was adapted into a manga, which is still in production, and a 24-episode anime that ran between April 8, 2018 – September 23, 2018. The animation studios DLE and Madhouse brought the anime series and feature film to life. The film is directed by Kitaro Kosaka (a key animator or an animation director on much of the Studio Ghibli back catalog) and written by Reiko Yoshida (screenwriter of A Silent Voice and The Cat Returns).
Okko’s Inn had a brief and sporadic theatrical run April 22 and 23, 2019 and Shout! Factory will be releasing the film on DVD and Blu-ray July 2, 2019. Oriko Seki, whose nickname is Okko, is left on her own after her parents pass away in a car accident. She goes to live with her grandmother, Mineko, who is the innkeeper at Hananoyu Inn. Okko is remarkably uninjured in the fatal crash, but has a vision of a spectral boy rescuing her before disappearing. Since Okko nearly died, she has the ability to hear and talk to ghosts. Once arriving at Hananoyu, Okko meets Makoto Tachiuri, or Uribo, who was Mineko’s neighbor and best friend when she was a child. Uribo talks Okko into taking over the family business and suddenly Okko finds herself as the new junior innkeeper of Hananoyu Inn.
The film is a whimsical fantasy adventure with a splash of drama that tends to blindside you with this heavy anchor of emotion. Okko is a normal girl that is still in elementary school. To the guests of the inn, she’s vivacious and energetic. To Mineko, Okko lacks manners and proper etiquette. The Hananoyu Inn has an overwhelming amount of tradition in its walls and Okko is simply ignorant to the details, so she has a lot to learn. At the beginning of the film, she’s somewhat in denial about her parents’ deaths. She still sees them in everyday situations and they visit her in her dreams where she has consistent conversations with them about still being alive. When she first arrives at the inn, while she’s not necessarily in mourning, she refuses to acknowledge the incident and spends the majority of the time being afraid of spiders and lizards while ghost boogers are literally the grossest thing in the world to her.
The five stages of grief aren’t necessarily represented in Okko’s Inn, but Okko’s progression and maturity over the course of the film seem to at least be inspired by what one would experience during heavy times of grief. Okko is never really angry about her parents no longer being around, but she fools herself into thinking that maybe it didn’t really happen. Her bargaining and depression stages tend to bleed together as once she realizes she’s truly alone, she breaks down and pleads for someone-anyone to be there for her since she doesn’t want to be by herself. Her eventual acceptance is mature and grown up by anyone’s standards as her final actions are surprisingly adult for such a young girl.
You Don't Use a Straw? That's Hardcore!
The supporting characters are a lively bunch to say the least. Uribo is like Okko’s rock since he’s by her side the majority of the film. His connection to her family gives him this deep rooted attachment to Okko and he seems to cheer her up whenever she’s at her lowest. There’s also Okko’s uptight classmate Matsuki Akino, or Frilly Pink, who is essentially Okko’s rival. Matsuki believes in dressing extravagantly and has the sole intention of standing out amongst everyone else. Her family owns the equally lavish Harunoya Inn, which looks to be the most luxurious inn around town with the most excessive and flashy accommodation imaginable. Okko and Matsuki always seem to be in competition with one another with Matsuki gloating about how great her inn is while Okko is the only student in school courageous enough to call Matsuki out when she deserves it. It makes things all the more interesting when Okko meets the young girl ghost known as Miyo, who has a strong link to Matsuki. Okko also accidentally releases a bell demon named Suzuki. She befriends him rather quickly even if his sole purpose seems to be eating her spring pudding and stealing food in general.
There are several messages that Okko’s Inn conveys and all of them would be practices of an individual that only sees the good in everyone and everything that they come across. Hananoyu Inn has a hot spring with these legendary waters that are said to belong to the gods. These waters are open to everyone, which means all are welcome at the Hananoyu Inn no matter their financial status, appearance, or otherwise. While Okko’s best friends in the film are two ghosts and a demon, grief is associated with being able to interact with them. Once Okko begins to experience happiness and settle in to her new surroundings, her friends begin to disappear. While it’s scary at first she begins to realize that she isn’t alone thanks to a surprisingly generous fortune teller named Glory Suiryo. There's a humorous moment when Okko brings Glory a drink who refuses to use a straw and Okko states, "Whoa, hardcore." Okko’s Inn addresses facing an adult matter at a young age and Okko experiences a gargantuan amount of change over the course of 90 minutes. While she is just a naïve young girl named Oriko Seki at the beginning of the film, by the end she has blossomed into a responsible and polite junior innkeeper known as Okko.
If there’s one aspect of Okko’s Inn to be critical of it’s that the film has a predictable formula. You’re likely to see where it’s headed early on, but that basic structure allows the film’s more impressive elements to flourish and leave a memorable impact that is likely to be pleasurable to all that view it. The characters are so eccentric and joyous to be around; you want to spend as much time with them as you can. The film is also surprisingly feel-good despite being sparked initially from tragedy. There are dramatic moments and the last ten minutes are a direct kick to your abdomen, but every moment in between is purely delightful.
© 2019 Chris Sawin