When I found out that former Studio Ghibli animator and veteran anime filmmaker Kitarō Kōsaka had a film at the 2019 Melbourne International Film Festival, I knew I had to attend and was so grateful I was able to see it when the film festival announced an encore screening.
Okko’s Inn is a Japanese anime film based the on Japanese children’s novels by Hiroko Reijo which later became a manga adaptation with art by Eiko Ōuchi and is also an animated TV series. In this film adaptation, the story follows young girl Oriko ‘Okko’ Seki who is sweet, happy-go-lucky and beloved by her wonderful parents. But all that changes when her parents are killed in a horrific car accident.
Forced to grow up too fast, Okko finds herself moving to live with her grandmother who runs a ryokan (a traditional Japanese inn), the Hananoyu Inn. Suddenly training as a Junior Innkeeper as well as still attending school much to the encouragement of her new friend, a ghost boy named Uribo, Okko deals with her newfound responsibilities, acceptance, change, anxiety and loss.
Okko voiced by Seiran Kobayashi appears very attentive, kind-hearted and holds a maturity beyond her years. Despite being a very caring and clever child, she is still exactly just that, a child. Trying to appear strong, Okko gives herself very little time to grieve which may also be the reason she can see ghosts; Uribo voiced by Satsumi Matsuda and Miyo voiced by Rina Endô.
The animation in Okko’s Inn is colourful and simply beautiful. You could pause shots, print and frame them. I also found the Japanese voice acting to be great and really felt I got to know each character on an intimate level, including the aloof classmate and innkeeper rival Matsuki voiced by Nana Mizuki.
But it was the story and narrative itself that won me over. Although Okko’s Inn is a children’s film, I believe it would be best appreciated by adults as it is light-hearted but deep, displaying Japanese culture at its finest while also sharing a positive powerful message and addressing grief. With superb animation and excellent storytelling, it was hard not to cry when seeing this tender but brilliant animated piece. Okko’s Inn is by far one of the best animated films that I have ever seen. It is a story that everyone can emotionally connect to and is one that will stay with me always.