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A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Okko's Inn -- a Japanese anime film directed by Hayao Miyazaki protégé Kitaro Kosaka -- is about a girl rebuilding her life after her parents' death. Young Okko (voiced by Seiran Kobayashi) is in the back seat when she and her family are in a terrible car accident; the adults' death isn't obvious, and Okko continues to "see" them, which may confuse young viewers. When Okko finally comes to grips with her loss, she cries passionately -- and viewers will likely sob along with her. Adapted from a Japanese children's book, the film reflects that country's culture -- some of which might be new to American kids (for instance, Okko is admonished by her grandmother for showing her elbows when she waves goodbye). There's one problematic character whose behavior might set off predatory alarms but in the movie is completely innocent: A beautiful young fortune teller who engages in sorcery is scantily clad around Okko and later treats Okko to a shopping spree, telling her to dismiss her grandmother's orders not to take the items because the new clothes are a gift from her new grown-up friend. Kids serve adults beer and champagne and throw out some insults, but they work out their differences. And on the positive side, kids have a rivalry around creating and eating healthy meals.
What's the story?
In OKKO'S INN, following her parents' death in a terrible car crash, Okko (voiced by Seiran Kobayashi) goes to live at her grandmother's inn located near a hot spring that's known for its healing properties. She embraces her title of "junior innkeeper" and eagerly learns the family business -- all with the help of the friends she meets there: ghosts of children who died long ago. Without realizing it, Okko finds the strength and capacity to deal with her loss by helping the inn's guests through their own pain and struggles.
Is it any good?
This is a sweet, vividly animated ghost story that shows death and grief from a child's point of view. Family films often include the death of a parent, but it's the rare movie that's really about that profound loss. At first, after Okko's tragedy, it doesn't seem like this film will be about that, either. Okko shows up at her grandmother's inn in the tourist countryside town of Hananoya, and there's really no discussion about her parents. But then she meets two young energetic spirits that become her friends and help her embrace her new life. Okko continues to have happy experiences with her parents in her fantasies, always saying, "you're not really dead, are you?" Okko knows that her parents are no longer alive, but it doesn't feel to her like they're gone. They must still be here because she just can't imagine life without them. The little ghosts who play with her are her support system, helping her adjust to her new life while providing comfort and reassuring her that a soul continues to exist in an afterlife that's not horrible. In the meantime, Okko busies herself by helping her grandmother, learning a trade, and realizing that she's a positive force in others lives -- all keeping her from her own sadness.
When Okko finally experiences the rush of realization that her parents aren't coming back, she's overwhelmed with emotion. And, given how light the film is up to that point, viewers may be surprised to find that they, too, are crying buckets of tears. But we've also experienced Okko's process and know -- just as she does -- that she's going to be OK. For a family film about death, it's much lighter, more playful, and more colorful than you'd ever expect. Okko's Inn may not be hammering home a message, but what it delivers is understanding.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about their views on death and the afterlife. What does Glory mean when she tells Okko, "You're not alone, your parents are watching over you." Do you think ghosts exist? Why do you think movies like to have ghosts as characters?
While the loss of Okko's parents is obviously terrible, what opportunity opens up for her as a result? What does Okko learn about herself?
How does Okko's Inn reflect Japanese culture? How does the film line up with the principles of Japanese art? What parts of the film surprised you because they suggest a different way of thinking or doing things?
How is shopping portrayed in the film? Parents, what are your thoughts on "retail therapy"?
The other students say that Okko's rival Matsuki is one of the best and the brightest and she's a hard worker. What character strengths do you think Okko demonstrates?
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