I believe strongly art and entertainment meant for kids that isn’t afraid to challenge them. It shows respect for the emotional complexity and growing intelligence of children, while still understanding that guidance is important. With respect to that sentiment, Okko’s Inn (Wakaokami wa Shougakusei! in Japanese) is an anime film that flits between the light-hearted and the somber, successfully channeling both in ways that resonate with young and old alike.
After a life-changing event, grade schooler Oriko (nickname: Okko) ends up moving in to her grandma’s traditional Japanese inn. There, she discovers that she can communicate with a few local spirits, and winds up becoming a junior innkeeper. Learning and laughing alongside both the ghosts and the humans she meets, Okko matures little by little.
Okko’s Inn is cute and heartwarming both on the surface and deep down to its core, but it doesn’t mean its story is all fluff. While the portrayal of the humble everyday bustle of a Japanese inn provides an almost meditative atmosphere, Okko’s internal and external conflicts are made all the more poignant by the way both joy and sorrow touch her life.
There’s one character who steals every scene she appears in: Okko’s classmate Matsuki, whose family is also in the inn business. Both wealthy and refusing to conform to expectations, she’s a wonderfully gaudy princess-type who is actually anything but shallow. Okko and Matsuki’s rivalry/friendship is a thing of beauty, and one of many relationships that make the film fulfilling.
While Okko’s Inn is an emotional ride, it’s never to the extent that it feels incongruous or conducive to whiplash. Whether you’re 5 or 95, its story, and all the little moments that make that story up, are hard to forget.