Okko's Inn review – come for the story, stay for the quirky characters

A traumatised child gets into the innkeeping business – with the help of some benevolent phantoms – in a perky tale from a former Studio Ghibli animator

The Ponyo ramen, that gif staple, now has some serious competition in the enticing anime food stakes: the “hot springs pudding” prepared by the junior innkeeper in Okko’s Inn, with its perfect gelatinous wobble.

Adapted from the bestselling Japanese children’s novels of the same name, the film follows young Okko (voiced in the dubbed version by Madigan Kacmar), who, after her parents’ death in a car accident, goes to live with her grandmother, who runs the idyllic countryside Hananoyu inn. Grief leaves Okko lingering in the foyer between life and death; she is able to see a posse of benevolent spirits – starting with that of Uribo, her grandmother’s buck-toothed childhood friend – who prod her into an apprenticeship at the family establishment.

With suggestions that her phantom housekeeping team will dissipate once Okko is in a better emotional place, we’re not so far from Toy Story territory. Ghibli veteran Kitarō Kōsaka, a supervising animator on many Hayao Miyazaki projects, leads Okko through her encounters with a similar airy idealism: the inn “rejects no one”, the grandmother solemnly insists. What the film lacks in outstanding visual set-pieces, it makes up for with energetic characterisation, each ghost and guest effortlessly quirky and individual, from the dessert-scoffing bell demon Okko unleashes to the retail therapy-advocating fortune teller who checks in at one point.

Kōsaka keeps Okko’s quest light and perky, not fully drilling into the vein of childhood trauma-induced fantasy that the best of Ghibli and Pixar hit upon. It proposes attentiveness to others as a means of self-care, but it has the same brisk impatience with real inner conflict that the grandmother has towards Okko’s outbursts. Still, beyond the intended tween audience, this chirpy paean to the healing powers of hospitality should be required viewing on Premier Inn training days.

•Released on 14 July in the UK.


Phil Hoad

The GuardianTramp

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