Saturday, April 20, 2019

Okko’s Inn, from GKIDS and Madhouse

You could definitely say this film is more honest than the Caspar cartoons, but it forthrightly acknowledges the ghosts of young children imply something quite sad. Alas, nobody knows bereavement better than the title character. She lost her parents in a freak auto accident, so she now lives at her grandmother’s country hotel. Much to her surprise, the ghosts she finds there might help her reach some closure in Kitaro Kosaka’s Okko’s Inn, which has two special screenings next week via Fathom Events and GKIDS.

Oriko “Okko” Seki had picture perfect parents, so their sudden death leaves her reeling. Nevertheless, she is still resilient enough to try to make the best of it when her stern grandmother takes her in. She quickly makes friends with Uri-bo, a little boy ghost who has silently watched over her grandmother since she was a young girl. She has more trouble with Miyo Akino, another young ghosty, who is, or rather was the older sister of Okko’s new rival, Matsuki Akino, the heir apparent of a tony resort nearby.

Actually, Uri-bo and Miyo can both be a little annoying at times, but the film (based on Hiroko Reijo’s YA novels) still has a massive and infectious heart. When Okko really comes to terms with the circumstances of her parents’ death, you are absolutely guaranteed to get a little choked up (or maybe a lot). As an added bonus, Okko’s relationship with Matsuki evolves in ways that are somewhat surprising, but definitely rewarding and smart.

The animation of Madhouse (the studio that produced Summer Wars and Paprika) is not quite at the level of Studio Ghibli or the best of Makoto Shinkai, but it is still quite lovely. There is some goofy bedlam with the young ghosts that could have been reigned in a little, but there is no doubt this film connects on an emotional level. In fact, Reiko Yoshida’s screenplay adaptation of Reijo’s novels is shrewdly crafted to maximize the dramatic whammies.

In many ways, Okko’s Inn is a textbook example of anime films. That also includes an aptitude for addressing heavy life events in a way that is accessible for younger viewers. Anyone who enjoyed Ghibli films like When Marnie Was There or Mamoru Hosoda’s Mirai should respond similarly to Okko. Recommended with affection for anime fans, Okko’s Inn screens in theaters nationwide on Monday (4/22) and Tuesday (4/23), including the AMC Empire in New York.