Review for Okko's Inn
Sometimes you can take a familiar premise, and just give it a twist, and come up with something really quite different. Take Okko’s Inn for example. A little girl goes to live with her grandmother, and winds up working at her hot springs inn in a delightful, traditional rural setting. And while her grandmother’s establishment is small and quaint, a girl from school has a lavish rival inn, and a princess like attitude to go with it. So far, so Hanasaku Iroha, but Okko’s Inn has a drastically altered starting point, which results in a story that is completely different on a fundamental level.
Seki “Okko” Oriko was returning home from her grandmother’s Hananoyu Inn when the car she was in with her parents was involved in an accident. She was thrown clear, but her parents died in the crash. Subsequently, Okko moved back to live with her grandmother at the inn. She’s uncomfortable so close to nature, the strange bugs, the geckos climbing on the window, the ghost talking to her.
There is actually a ghost in her room, the spectre of a young boy named Uribo who only Okko can see and hear, and Uribo has reason to convince Okko to help her grandmother run the inn, become the little innkeeper, and to eventually take over the management. But it turns out that Uribo isn’t the only ghost hanging around the inn, and Okko has a lot to learn about the hospitality business.
Okko’s Inn gets a 1.78:1 widescreen 1080p transfer on this disc. It looks as if Manga have cloned GKids release, and Okko’s Inn gets a nice BD 50 for this 95 minute movie to breathe. Consequently, this Madhouse animation is clear and sharp, with gorgeous colours and smooth motion, and with no sign of compression, aliasing or even banding. It’s a vibrant animation, with nary a static scene in the whole film. The world design is lush and layered, while the character designs have a Ghibli-esque simplicity to them that really works well. Okko’s Inn is a quality, theatrical animation that gets the presentation it deserves on this Blu-ray.
You have the choice between DTS-HD MA 5.1 Surround English and Japanese, with optional subtitles and signs. I was happy with the Japanese audio, the voice actors were suited to their roles, the dialogue was clear, and the surround was put to good use conveying the ambience of the film. The music suits the story well, a mix of traditional music and some gentle themes. One thing to note is that there aren’t any subtitles for the theme songs. The subtitles are timed accurately and are free of typos, but they have a small font with thin outlines, which is easy to lose against busy backgrounds. I gave the dub a try, and it seemed acceptable enough, with voice actors cast age appropriately. It does seem as if they went a different way with the relationship between Okko and her grandmother, making her a little bit sterner in the English version.
The disc boots to an animated menu and that’s your lot.
The similarity with Hanasaku Iroha is unmistakable, but that really is just the background of the story, giving Okko a place to be, and a direction in her life following the loss of her parents. With this being a feature film, there isn’t the scope or the time to indulge in the slice of life antics that Hanasaku Iroha exemplified. However, the Okko’s Inn feature film was preceded by a 24 episode TV series which probably did, although oddly enough, I can’t find any evidence that it was streamed to Western audiences.
The Okko’s Inn feature film though is resolutely about dealing with loss and grief, and that makes it a fundamentally different experience to Hanasaku Iroha. For a child of Okko’s age, an elementary school student to lose her parents is a traumatic and devastating experience, but depicting the reality of that wouldn’t make for a satisfying family film. At first it seems like a switch is pulled that turns her life from one heading to another, and while Okko is most certainly nervous and wary of living with her grandmother, it’s the little things that throw her off track, the prevalence of bugs in the country, the ickiness of lizards. But neither she, nor we have long to dwell on her trauma, when she encounters the first of the ghosts at the inn, Uribo, a little boy that has been attached to Okko’s grandmother for years, and who can now finally do something to help her through Okko, as only she can see him. He persuades her to help out at the inn, and start training to eventually inherit the business.
When she transfers to the local school, she meets Matsuki, whose family runs a rival inn, and who has outspoken views on how things should be done, as well as an aggressively cute dress sense which leaves her as something of an outsider in class. Okko and Matsuki’s first meeting is abrupt, and Uribo retaliates for Okko by drawing on Matsuki’s face. But then Okko’s face gets scribbled on in return, and it turns out that Matsuki had an older sister who died at age seven, and now Miyo has decided to haunt Okko as well. On top of that Okko breaks the seal on a little demon named Suzuki who turns out to be an oddball good luck charm for the inn, stealing food, and drawing strange guests to stay at the inn.
With this kind of otherworldly company, Okko has very little time to dwell on her situation, but she does have this lingering trauma to deal with, and that is how the film unfolds. Early on, it transpires that she has created this little imaginary dream world where her parents are still alive, and it seems she takes refuge there. But it’s through the strange guests that Suzuki brings to the inn that Okko starts to work through her grief. First she has to recognise her grief through someone else’s eyes, then she must face the traumatic memory of the accident itself, before finally acknowledging what has happened to her. A bohemian father and his son, mourning for the loss of his mother help with the first, an extravagant fortune-teller helps with the second, and finally a happy family, celebrating the father’s recovery from injury help with the last. All through these episodes, Okko has the ghosts to lean on.
Okko’s Inn starts from the most traumatic, heartbreaking event that any child could face, but still develops a heart-warming, charming and magical story. You don’t need absolute realism to impart a strong and helpful message, and while the real world doesn’t supply idyllic settings and playful ghosts to hold one’s hands through trauma, there is something to be said for seeing Okko work through her grief in the way that she does. Manga’s presentation of the film might lack extras or physical extravagances, but the AV quality itself is excellent, and this is a family film well worth picking up.