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If we are going to have a healthier theatrical animation scene in Japan, studios and animation enthusiasts alike need to be supportive of newer voices. We can’t let already-well-known names be the only ones that get the spotlight. While the Japanese animation scene is going through some major obstacles with keeping people who want to work in animation in the animation industry, that means when a new or unfamiliar voice makes a film, we should go out and support it.
Whether you love the end product or not, it’s more important that someone new or not as well known gets the attention. This is why I wanted to support Okko’s Inn. Directed by Kitaro Kosaka, and based on the manga and anime of the same name, Okko’s Inn is a film that I find to get overshadowed by other 2019 US-animation releases, like Makoto Shinkai’s Weathering With You and Studio Trigger’s Promare. I think Okko’s Inn deserves more support, and I’m going to tell you why!
Our story follows a young girl named Okko, dubbed by Madigan Kacmar. She ends up in an unfortunate situation where her parents are killed in a car accident. She goes to live with her grandmother at her inn. Okko then encounters some friendly spirits around the building, including a young boy named Uribo, dubbed by KJ Aikens, a young girl named Miyo, dubbed by Tessa Frascogna, and a small demon named Suzuki, dubbed by Colleen O’Shaughnessey. Okko will encounter different inn guests and even a girl who helps run a rival inn named Matsuki, dubbed by Carly Williams. Can Okko learn to be an innkeeper and learn how to help people? Can she learn about forgiveness and selflessness in helping others?
So, something to note about the director Kitaro Kosaka is that he worked on multiple Studio Ghibli projects that include Castle in the Sky, Ponyo, Spirited Away, and even Mamoru Hosoda’s The Boy and the Beast. If you feel like Okko’s Inn has the same vibe as a lower-key Ghibli film, you wouldn’t be wrong. This movie focuses on Okko’s coming of age as she helps different tenants in the inn who have their hang-ups in their life. It shows how acts of kindness of any kind can help improve the lives of others. It’s a laid back film in the same spirit as Kiki’s Delivery Service or My Neighbor Totoro. You get some fun shenanigans with the spirits, but the film’s strongest moments are with Okko figuring out how to help out everyone who comes to the inn. It’s noticeable that this film, through its designs and tone, is an experience aimed at a younger audience, and even for a film aimed at that demographic, it doesn’t talk down to them. The film does tackle themes of death, and it’s not afraid to talk about it. Luckily, the characters feel like they were right out of a Ghibli film, likable, endearing, complex, and fun.
Okko’s Inn was produced by Studio Madhouse and Dream Link Entertainment, which shows in the animation. It’s a gorgeous movie with charming designs, and fluid animation. There are some wonderful scenes, including the koi fish kite sequence and when Okko meets the fortune teller. The dub for the film is handled well. You can tell the kids in the film are voiced by kids, and the adults are voiced by adults. I have seen both the sub and dub versions of this film, and you really can’t go wrong with either. The music by Keiichi Suzuki is beautiful, and has that Japanese flair you would want with a film taking place in a mountain-side inn. If his name sounds familiar, he is the same composer behind Satoshi Kon’s Tokyo Godfathers and the famous RPG Earthbound.
If I had to complain, I could, but a lot of the issues I have are nitpicky. The designs took a bit for me to get used to. They are more family-friendly, and it was jarring to me for some reason. They remind me of something like Hamtaro. I did look it up, and the person in charge of the art direction is Yoichi Watanabe, who worked on the Star Ocean EX series. The only major issue I have is that a lot of the major drama is shoved into the third act, and it’s abrupt when it transitions into it. However, I do like the ending, so I guess you can say that it’s also a nitpick.
Okko’s Inn is a delightful little film about kindness, growing up, forgiveness, and helping others. It might be getting overshadowed by other high-quality anime films, but Okko’s Inn shouldn’t be overlooked. It’s available right now on Blu-ray and DVD, and I think everyone should get a copy. Now then, it’s been four years since I have been reviewing animated films, and I think it’s time to celebrate with something flashy. Next time, we will take a look at Studio Trigger’s first original film, Promare!
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Rating: Go See It!