I give this adorable movie...an 85/100!
It's strange: Movies used to be where you could really experiment and create what you want to create. That still happens, but for movies based on TV series, they tend to get too ambitious for their own good before crashing and burning, or are just recaps, or take too little risks out of fear of pissing off their fanbase. I say there need to be more movies that really go with their own ideas and visions, and they don't always have to be epic or complex in order to work. As you know, I knew nothing of Okko's Inn before reading info on the movie, and I watched the TV series, which I admit was cute, but rather generic and tended to meander. A lot. And it played things too safe. The trailer for the movie, which is an alternate retelling of the story, promised to be better and stronger, and I was interested in seeing it, but then my local theater yanked it off their schedule when it came time for it to premiere. Needless to say, I was pissed off. But now, having seen the movie now, I'm pissed off even more, because holy crap, this movie is damn good, in that it pretty much fixes every single flaw the series had and more! Would it be considered blasphemy if I say I like this way better than the series?
The story is the same as the series: After losing her parents in a car accident, Oriko "Okko" Seki is sent to live with her grandmother at her Japanese inn. When she gets there, she finds herself befriending a ghost boy, Uribo, who begs her to take over her grandmother's inn. She pretty much gets forced into it, and through trial and error, she learns the ins and outs of hospitality and being a gracious host. She also has to deal with an annoying rich girl classmate, Matsuki Akino, who lives at the much fancier Shuukou Inn, and later befriends another ghost, Miyo, and a mischievous demon, Suzuki. The thing with the series is that it was very flawed. It had a lot of filler-y subplots that either never went anywhere, were poorly executed, or resolved too quickly. It never really knew what it wanted to do. The movie finds its focus, cuts out all of the pointless parts, and has a much tighter story arc, never straying from its intended purpose. It's still rather cliche, but by cutting out all the chafe that held the series back and attempting realistic drama, it manages to stand on its own, as much more than just an alternate continuity.
One thing the movie definitely has that surpasses the TV series in every way is its MASSIVELY improved animation. The colors are brighter, the character animation is much more fluid and less stagant, the character designs are much sleeker (and Okko's face doesn't get weirdly round and over-bloated when she's seen from a side view), the colors are a visual orgasm. Everything looks absolutely beautiful, and considering the director of this movie and a few other people previously worked for Ghibli, you know the animation is going to be good. It helps that there's a lot going on, and everything has a flair to it that the series just didn't have. It really amazes me what a decent animation budget can achieve if you put it to good use!
Unfortunately, one big downside this movie has is its music. The TV series' music was fine, if rather generic. Sadly, the movie's soundtrack suffered a lot in quality. I mean, the usage of kotos and traditional Japanese instruments sound fine, especially during the famous Shinto dance sequences, which really set the mood. The story is supposed to be subtle, but a lot of genuinely good moments wind up losing their touch when an incredibly loud set of pianos and wind instruments thunder through the speakers, overpowering everything else. A soundtrack can do wonders in enriching a story, but the soundtrack here tried too hard, and some scenes would have benefited from having some of the music toned down a bit. It doesn't help that there's a shopping montage set to a really, REALLY generic, badly sung bubblegum pop song that's just so terrible that it makes your eardrums feel like they're being stabbed by knives. Was that even necessary?
While the minor characters such as some of the staff at Harunoya and Okko's classmates aren't nearly as developed as the main three--Okko, Miyo, and Uribo, the latter trio are still very dynamic and well done here. By far the biggest change the movie did from the series, for the better, was Okko's overall background and characterization. In the series, we see her work at the inn and deal with guests, but we don't know anything about her life before the accident, and any feelings she has for her parents' loss are just glazed over. The movie decides to make this the main focus, with Okko feeling their loss, being in denial about their deaths, showing pieces of her life before coming to Harunoya, showing how their deaths affect her personally, and really going out of their way to make her as fully fleshed out and three dimensional as possible, especially in regards to one scene near the very end, where she has to confront her painful past. It even shows Okko at school more, with plenty of scenes where she's interacting with her classmates and letting her be a kid, which the series didn't bother to do all that often. I'm really glad the movie made this change, as it gives the audience much more of a reason to care about Okko and her plight, really allowing her to shine and be the kind of flawed but engaging protagonist you want to root for. It helps that the cast in general act in a subtle manner and don't try to create more drama than is necessary.
The only other flaw I found with this movie is that Matsuki Akino, Okko's rival and a typical rich girl who picks on her, kind of got the shaft when it comes to having development, which, to the TV show's credit, she did receive plenty of there. She's only ever shown being mean to Okko, even when she's trying to be helpful, and any signs of there being more to her don't show up until near the very end. I do appreciate the movie trying to give her more personality traits, such as quoting famous people (Though, what 12-year-old kid would quote Bill Gates or Leo Tolstoy? I also didn't expect a random Walt Disney quote in the movie either) and having her be genuinely knowledgable about inns and how they work, so I'll give the producers credit for that. When I saw the English dubbed trailer for this movie, I thought her voice actress didn't sound quite right at first. I felt like she was trying too hard to sound over the top and theatrical, even for that character archetype. Thankfully, she's much better in the final product, and the over-acted line in question makes more sense in context. NYAV Post worked on the dub, and while I wouldn't consider it one of their best efforts, with a few stilted lines here and there, and one scene that didn't make sense to me in translation (I haven't seen the Japanese version yet), it's still a very good dub overall.
They say that sometimes, less is more, and I think this version of Okko's Inn is a great example of that. In any case, I'm still amazed at how well this movie turned out, flaws and all. Definitely check this out if you want a sweet, wholesome, but still engaging and fun movie.