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.