There’s a moment in Never-Ending Man when legendary animator Hayao Miyazaki bemoans the end of production at Studio Ghibli after he retires. He wishes that a new generation could have taken over the place, but senses he burned out all the young talent that joined him. He senses his level of excellence pushed them too hard. But he didn’t completely make the other animators quit cinema and devote their lives to a monastery. Quite a few have emerged as directors at other animation studios. Kitarô Kôsaka had worked in various roles at Studio Ghibli over the decades on films such as Castle in the Sky, Grave of the Fireflies, Princess Mononoke, Spirited Away, Howl’s Moving Castle, Ponyo, From Up on Poppy Hill, The Wind Rises and When Marnie Was There. While that’s a pretty long career, Kôsaka sat down in the director’s chair to create Okko’s Inn.
Things go bad pretty fast for Okko. The young girl finds her life in a serious transition after a major incident. This leads to her moving in with her grandmother. The old lady doesn’t live in a retirement home. She runs what would be termed a boutique hotel in a country village near the healing waters. Okko’s in an emotionally fragile state and the inn weirds her out. First it’s merely because of the insects and small reptiles that roam the rooms because it is in the countryside. But then things get weird as she encounters the spirit of a boy that haunts the rooms. Thanks to a conversation with the ghost, the grandmother and her friends think Okko is volunteering to become a junior innkeeper to help out when she’s not in school. This process of learning on how to make the guests feel welcomed and taken care of helps her overcome the trauma from earlier part of the film. She goes through her education on how to be an innkeeper from her grandmother. It’s a little more intricate than if she was working at a regular hotel. There’s a bit more balance between nature and the spiritual than working at a Motel 6. She learns a bit about the ghost boy that haunts the house and his relationship with the grandmother. As sweet as Okko is, she’s got haters. When she goes to school, one of her classmates has a low opinion of their inn. Even worse is a female spirit who is a bit of a brat and draws on Okko’s face. Can she maintain her hospitality outlook on life under stress?
Okko’s Inn is film aimed that addresses the topic of how to be able to serve others and help them in times of stress and distress. Okko is not just sticking to a family first outlook that involves animated cartoons. You rarely experience a film about the need to provide fine customer service after the musical number in Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. Not only does it establish what you have to do to go the extra mile, but how you should appreciate those who provide these services. Okko work at the inn isn’t just a quick way to earn cash. She’s carrying on a family business so there’s a deep significance to her learning how to do things right.
Once you get past the rather shocking opening incident, Okko’s Inn is a bit lighter in tone. She has small adventures as she engages the guests. Director Kitarô Kôsaka brings the tone and techniques from his time at Studio Ghibli with his new crew and animation home. He admirably steps up to the director position and proves he wasn’t burned out. Okko’s Inn is a welcoming debut.
The video is 1.78:1 anamorphic. The transfer brings out the colors and the beauty in the animation. There’s a lush shot of fish kites flapping in the wind. The audio is both the Japanese and English tracks in 5.1 DTS-HD. There’s also a French 5.1 mix. For those with sight impairments, a descriptive audio is provided. the movie is subtitled in English, French and Spanish.
DVD has the film and the bonus features.
Interview With The Director (4:16) has Kosaka talk about directing a film aimed at girls. He speaks of going through the books and picking out the episodes that needed to be covered in the film. Even with his long history at Studio Ghibli, he’s only 56.
Interview With Seiran Kobayashi (3:39) has her talk about voicing Okko. She loved the books and cried when she got the role. Kosaka is happy that the film has been so well received. It had just won an audience award at a festival. The premiere was a sell out so they are grateful.
Q&A At Japanese Premiere (20:52) has the director talk from the stage along with the producers.
Trailers And TV Spots (4:43) is a variety of trailers for the US and Japan.
GKIDS and Shout! Factory presents Okko’s Inn. Directed by: Kitarô Kôsaka. Screenplay by: Reiko Yoshida. Starring: Seiran Kobayashi, Nana Mizuki, Satsumi Matsuda, Rina Endô & tsuko Kozakura. Rated: Unrated. Running time: 95 minutes. Rated: Unrated. Released: July 2, 2019.
Tags: GKIDS, Hayao Miyazaki, Shout! Factory, Studio Ghibli