Okko’s Inn (Waka Okami wa Shōgakusei!)

Okko’s Inn (Waka Okami wa Shōgakusei!) 2018

I want to call Okko’s Inn a sweet film but I feel like I’ve used that descriptor far too often lately, and somehow ‘charming’ seems to have subtle hints of condescension? Equally, I reckon ‘lovely’ isn’t quite right either but if you can imagine a word that somehow evokes all three, you’ll have an idea of what I’m going for!

Kirato Kosaka directed the movie and his Ghibli-pedigree is noted on my DVD and I think I do see his influence on the character design but I haven’t checked the manga or novels to see if that’s true. And there are some clear parallels to Spirited Away with Sen working in a bathhouse and helping spirits, while here Okko works in a hot spring-themed inn and helps spirits and human guests – but I think Okko’s Inn is more a film about grief and community.

And like most modern anime, it’s beautiful and vibrant – it especially feels like extra attention to detail on the settings and costumes was clear but I guess if I had to note a quibble then it might be on some of the character design, as the kids seemed to almost too cute? Having said that, it does work – they’re cute for sure. And the story is definitely moving, with the drama taking a bigger role than the comedy or supernatural aspects.

In a little interview included as part of the special features I saw Kosaka mention that it was hard to choose and then merge a range of storylines that the novels, manga and TV series had covered, and ultimately the ones used all feed in to Okko’s emotional journey but I think I wanted a little more of some aspects and less of others… but this is not to say the movie is chaotic because it’s not. In fact, my favourite aspect aside from the main storyline was probably the side story of Okko and Glory, as I’m always a fan of mentor-like relationships.

If this sounds like your sort of genre and you’re looking for what’s probably a compressed version of Okko’s story, then this is definitely worthwhile, even if it’s a familiar tale of determination and compassion (in some ways).

4 Stars

The Pagemaster (1994)

The Pagemaster (1994)

This was a fascinating look back at something I was certain I’d seen as a kid but when I watched it recently, I realised I had very few memories of it whatsoever.

While The Pagemaster is definitely an animated film it does have some live-action bookending, and while there’s obviously a purpose to the scenes, I’m only gonna focus on the animation of course.

I feel like there would have been high hopes for this one, landing neatly in the middle of the ‘Disney Renaissance’ as it did. Some of the production team included ex-Disney folks and some big names from Hanna-Barbera, who had formed ‘Turner Feature Animation’ which as an entity, only lasted a few years after the release of The Pagemaster.

Now, that might sound like I’m pointing the finger at this movie as a reason for that failure but the film certainly wasn’t bad. I didn’t find it wonderful either, and it’s clearly pitched at a young audience but I think no matter your age, you can feel when certain elements are ‘off’ even if you cannot articulate them at the time. And so it seemed audiences weren’t blown away either, if I look at only the box office.

But there’s some stunning animation in certain parts of the movie, contrasted with some very lifeless HB-looking backgrounds in certain scenes too. The pacing felt uneven to me and despite a big-name voice cast (Macaulay Culkin, Christopher Lloyd, Patrick Stewart, Whoopi Goldberg, Frank Welker, Leonard Nimoy, Jim Cummings and Phil Hartman among others) I only really feel like Stewart and Cummings nailed it (Lloyd more features in the live action).

Again, it’s not a bad film but the adventure feels little disjointed and choppy in terms of pacing, and to some extent perhaps – the reliance on existing intellectual properties for plot and setting gave it a ‘tired’ feel to me watching it now. Maybe as a kid I liked it a lot more?

But the scenes at sea looked great and the motif of books themselves appearing often as both characters and part of the backdrops was a nice touch I rekcon. I also enjoyed the character design of the pirates as they were clearly by the same hand that made the Sultan’s guards in Aladdin.

The dragon was another stand out but the transformation of Hyde and the Moby Dick scenes were the two highlights with some truly dramatic lighting, easily the most interesting visuals in the movie – and probably worth watching alone, instead going for the whole film if you’re curious.

…and because of these scenes, I’m guess I’ve boosted the film up in the star rating, otherwise I’d be going with 2:

3 Stars

The Napping Princess (Hirune Hime: Shiranai Watashi no Monogatari)

This film was sweet and at times exciting, with great character design and some distinctive performances too (especially from Mitsuki Takahata) but overall the split storylines introduced a bit of murkiness for me.

The Napping Princess (Hirune Hime: Shiranai Watashi no Monogatari) 2017

At times the tone seemed to move in an out of ‘younger viewers’ territory and I’m certainly not claiming that films aimed at kids are bad, it’s just that this one maybe could have done a little more to show consequences of the big events so the older folks could also enjoy it as much as I imagine younger viewers might.

Still, it probably sounds like I didn’t enjoy this but that’s not so, it’s just that for me it was ‘good’ but not a ‘knock-out’.

3 Stars