Ringing Bell, also known as Chirin no Suzu (Chirin’s Bell), is a 47-minute anime film from 1978 about a cute little lamb that learns a powerful lesson about revenge and the harsh laws of nature.
It’s spring time in the meadow. We’re introduced to a lamb named Chirin who frolics around a farm, playing with fellow lambs, and all-in-all having tons of fun exploring his surroundings.
Chirin has a tendency to get lost, and wears a bell around his neck so his mother can keep track of him. She’s always warning him not to go beyond the fence because a horrible wolf with an appetite for sheep lives in the area. “That’s silly!” says Chirin, “All of our wool makes us tough to eat! And clover leaves are much tastier.”
Oh, Chirin. Poor, sweet, naïve Chirin.
One autumn night, the wolf attacks the sheep’s farm. He targets young Chirin, but Chirin’s mother uses her body as a shield and dies protecting him. The next morning, Chirin crawls out from under his mother’s body and learns the horrifying truth that she’s no longer alive.
A raging Chirin rushes outside, beyond the confines of the farm to a cave. There, he tries to pick a fight with the wolf, but when that doesn’t work, Chirin realizes he needs to become stronger and asks to become the wolf’s apprentice. The wolf ignores him at first, but after Chirin keeps following and bugging him for a while, the wolf finally grants his request.
The New Chirin
We get a training montage, showing Chirin becoming stronger and growing into an adult ram, complete with bull-like horns. Chirin no longer wants to kill the wolf and now views him as a father figure. The two have become quite the team, killing every animal that gets in their way – the fiercest predators in the land.
One night, the wolf and Chirin head over to the farm Chirin was born. In a scene paralleling the beginning of the film, we see a mother sheep protecting her baby from harm; this melts Chirin’s cold heart and he kills the wolf to save them.
As the wolf dies, he tells Chirin that he’s proud of him: “I’m glad you’re the one who killed me.”
The other sheep are frightened of Chirin and shut him out of the barn. Neither sheep nor wolf, an ostracized Chirin disappears into the snowy mountains and was never seen again. “It’s said that on nights when there’s a fierce blizzard, the faint sound of a bell can be heard mixed in with the wind.”
A powerful film, like a darker version of Bambi and without the happy ending. It hits you with sadness right out the gate with a somber opening song to prepare you for what happens next. Now, even just listening to this song by itself causes tears to well up in my eyes.
The animation is fluid and the character designs are very effective, from the expressive young Chirin to the stoic wolf. The visuals take on a noticeable shift towards the end, becoming hazier and darker as the story builds to its climax. There’s plenty of violence and death in the film, but it’s all done without blood.
I find it hilarious that the film’s happy-go-lucky cover art tricked many a clueless parent in renting this film for their youngster. “DEAR GOD DO NOT BUY THIS FOR A CHILD” warns a Ringing Bell reviewer on Amazon.
This is a tragic, depressing film, but unlike other films of this type (notably Grave of the Fireflies), Ringing Bell is something I’d like to revisit. While short, it’s able to cram so much into so little; the perfect length. It’s a memorable story with multiple layers, themes, and interpretations ripe for reflection and discussion. But be warned, this film will turn you into a wreck by the time you’re done with it.
Watch Ringing Bell for free on Crunchy Roll.