Buried Treasure
Ringing Bell

by Justin Sevakis, Jan 15th 2009

Last year, Gisaboro Sugii came out with a gorgeous new film about the friendship (love?) between a wolf and a baby lamb. Despite plenty of angst and jaw-dropping visuals, A Stormy Night (Arashi no Yoru ni) chickened out in the end, cheapening the ending with a last-minute solution that rang false.

But the idea of a sheep betraying its people and palling around with a wolf is nothing new to anime. In fact, those of us old enough to remember a VHS release or cable screening from back in the day might have had flashbacks upon watching this newer film. It's one that predates A Stormy Night by almost 30 years.


RINGING BELL (Chirin no Suzu)

Chirin is a happy, energetic little lamb living an idyllic life on a farm. He's warned by his mother not to venture outside the fence. There's a wolf on the loose, and he'd no doubt see the little guy as a meal. Chirin can barely summon the attention to heed this warning, but in the end it doesn't even matter. The wolf breaks into the farm and goes right for Chirin. His mother dives in to save him, and in the process, is killed. The wolf leaves Chirin unscathed.

He played by the rules. His mother did nothing wrong. Chirin is confused and angry, and betrayed by his faith in nature. He refuses to accept that he has no choice but to be wolf bait. He will become a wolf, even if it means learning at the knee of the one who killed his mother.

This can't end well, and to the film's credit, it doesn't. I'll not give away the inevitable ending, but will only say that ending the film any other way would have been a cop-out. It's brutal. It's honest. For such a simple story, it leaves a stinging impact that stays with you for days.

I must admit, if there's a moral to be had I'm somewhat eluded by it. Perhaps it's a cautionary tale against going against who you are, or a stark lesson on the realities of the unfairness of life. Regardless, I'm quite sure it left quite a mark among its young viewers. When I wrote about Legend of Sirius last month, this was recommended to me by more than a handful of people.

Upon watching it, I couldn't shake the feeling that I had seen it before, albeit as a child unaware of what I was watching. I have a strong memory of Chirin mourning a dead bird and her broken eggs after being unable to save either from a snake. But honestly, the film it reminded me of most was last year's Oscar winner No Country For Old Men. Like No Country, there's a sense of resigned desperation from Ringing Bell; a feeling that the world is a terrible place and there's little one can do to rise to its challenges.

Ringing Bell is directed by Masami Hata (Little Nemo, Stitch!), and is one of the earlier anime productions from Sanrio Films, dating back to 1978. It was released as a double feature with the US/Sanrio co-production The Mouse and His Child, which is surely happier. The English dub, though not credited to a specific company, is produced by the same pair as the Unico films, Bran and Karen Arandjelovich. It has a bit of a shrill sound, but is quite watchable. (I have no idea how much was adapted, but most of the other Sanrio films were only slightly adapted, and nothing of its scant 47-minute running time was cut.

It's still rare for a children's film to deliver this sort of quick punch-to-the-face of the innocent, even in Japan. There is almost nothing uplifting about Ringing Bell, and yet it maintains its sense of adorable while simultaneously destroying our concepts of the beauty of nature. Which, in my book, ranks slightly below Santa Claus on the list of horrible lies parents tell their kids.

There's surprisingly little else to the film. With such a short running time, there simply isn't space for much subtext, or for otherwise marinating tin the world o the film. The designs are gorgeous, even if they don't look particularly Japanese; Chirin himself appears almost Disney-like in both his articulation as well as his merchandising potential. I understand that Chirin stationary was quite popular for a number of years following the film's release. Surely using such stationary would serve as a reminder of all the injustice, the shock, and the loneliness he experienced, perfect for love letters and thank-you notes.


Obscure-O-Meter™
A Abundant. Available anywhere that carries anime.
C Common. In print, and always available online.
R1 US release out of print, still in stock most places.
R2 US release out of print, not easy to find.
R3 Import only, but it has English on it.
R4 Import only. Fansubs commonly available.
R5 Import only, and out of print. Fansubs might be out there.
R6 Import long out of print. No fansubs are known to exist.
R7 Very rare. Limited import release or aired on TV with no video release. No fansubs known to exist.
R8 Never been on the market. Almost impossible to obtain.
Adapted from Soviet-Awards.com.

Where to get it:

HOW TO GET IT: I could find caps of the ancient dubbed VHS tape online, but the tapes themselves aren't jacked up too high just yet. The RCA/Columbia Home Video release is going for about $45. Surprisingly there's no fansub yet, despite an extremely cheap (like, R1-cheap) Japanese import release. The dub is quite watchable, despite the off-key songs.


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