Okko’s Inn is the everyday tale of a girl who stares trauma in its ghoulish face and rises above it all to make her life mean something. I’m sorry, did I say everyday? When she steps up as junior innkeeper at Hananoyu Inn, she begins to see the many ghosts and spirits who reside there too. In accepting their help to give shelter and hope to all kinds of wayward souls, her story could easily have become overly sentimental. But quite the opposite, it’s a grounded yet sweet and optimistic look at grief and the many ways it can touch our lives.
The foundation for this affectionate movie, carved out of an anime series which ran for two seasons in all, is undoubtedly Okko herself. The relationships she builds throughout its string of vignette-style meetings are bolstered by touchstones of Japanese culture to further highlight how universal her predicament is. The spirit and human realms crossing over within her becomes a poignant reflection on how trauma destroys then remakes us, wounded but stronger, different and yet somehow still the same.
By overcoming these spiritual shifts, Okko proves herself quite the role model for anyone who either has psychic abilities… or works in customer service. She’s quite ordinary as opposed to many other ‘I-see-dead-people’ types we see in media, compassionate and practical (except for when she gets in a flap over creepy crawlies) while still conscious of when to take charge. She has all the chops of a budding counsellor or spiritual healer, coaching her many troubled guests through grief and pain of all kinds. The film is almost a study into what an innkeeper—and by extension any person with friends, family and acquaintances—should be in life. Reliable, dutiful, responsible, but never letting those qualities overrule kindness or intuition.
There’s an understated kind of beauty in each chapter of this story, obviously an effect of Ghibli veteran Kitaro Kosaka imparting the studio’s unmistakeable aesthetic. Despite the lines between episodes of the show sometimes peeking out, this doesn’t break the soothing, quiet wildness of the story and its surroundings. Watching is like taking a dip in the healing waters of Hananoyu Inn’s fabled hot spring for yourself. You come out of it cleansed and reinvigorated, perhaps with a new perspective on some trouble or other you’ve tried to sweep under the rug.
For anyone who’s missing someone, Okko’s Inn has a cosy spot to curl up and reflect, and sometimes in surprising ways. The junior innkeeper is inspirational for how she manages her grief by helping others with theirs. But she’s also there as a reminder that sadness doesn’t equal weakness.