Even these tapes cost something

  Ringing Bell
1983 | Sanrio Company Ltd.
ringing bell chirin no suzu

Even the sleeve is somewhat sinister. The legendary Ringing Bell - how much death and misery can you fit into 47 mins? Let's find out!

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Written by Takashi Yanase, creator of the popular children's character Anpanman, Chirin no Suzu (Chirin's Bell) began its life as a children's picture book. First published in January 1978 the book became quite popular with young children and their parents. Later that year Sanrio, the home of Hello Kitty, chose to turn the book into a theatrical short. Yanase had links with the Sanrio having written a previous short, Chiisana Jumbo, for the company. He would also go on to direct Winds of Change.

Animation duties were handled by Madhouse. Famous in the West for violent action anime like Ninja Scroll, Wicked City and Vampire Hunter D, the studio have worked with Sanrio a number of times including several TV shows for their Mascot Hello Kitty as well as on the Osamu Tezuka written movie Fantastic Adventures of Unico and its sequel Island of Magic. The picture book featured a very simplistic style similar to a child's own drawings which had to be changed for the movie to a more traditional look while maintaining the overall appearance of Yanase's illustrations.

The animated Chirin no Suzu was released 11th March 1978, the joint second release under the Sanrio Films label. As a 47 minute short it was shown as a double bill with the Japanese financed, American animated Sanrio production The Mouse and His Child, showing after the 83 minute main feature. It was also shown briefly as part of a Sanrio quadruple with the additional musical shorts Rose & Joe, another Yanase production, and the live-action Songs of the Sea.

The small vocal cast included Minori Matsushima (Mazinger Z's Sayaka) as the young Chirin with the legendary Seiyu Akira Kamiya as the adult ram. Kamiya started out in the 1970's making a name for himself with the leads in many of the Super Robot Craze, Getter Robo, Danguard Ace, Tosho Daimos, before graduating to fan favourite roles as Roy Focker (Macross), Kenshiro (Fist of the North Star) and Ryo Saeba (City Hunter). Hitoshi Takagi narrated best known for his later role of Totoro in Miyazaki's My Neighbour Totoro.

Despite the bleak nature of the film Sanrio managed to market the Juvenile Chirin character on many of the same products graced by their popular mascots. The film was released on video and LaserDisc in the early eighties and, most recently, on DVD alongside Yanase shorts Joe and Rose and Chiisana Jumbo.

Six years after its Japanese release Chirin No Suzu, renamed Ringing Bell, received an American video release thanks to producers Bran & Karen Arandjelovich, who were also behind the English language releases of Sanrio's Unico and Sea Prince and Fire Child.

The short feature was released by RCA Columbia Pictures Home Video who handled US video distribution for a lot of Sanrio Film's output at the time. Titles in their catalogue included Fantastic Adventures of Unico and its sequel, Winds of Change, the puppet movie Nutcracker Fantasy, Sea Prince & Fire Child and Ringing Bell's theatrical partner The Mouse and his Child.

In spite of themes that were maybe quite a bit darker than young western audiences were used to, no edits were made to the movie aside from replacing the Japanese title card.

The English language production was a faithful adaptation of the original, retaining all the Japanese score simply re-recording the lyrics. The wolf, known as Wor in Japan, becomes The Wolf King or simply Wolf, the only name change.

This USA production, which was later re-released under Columbia's childrens label Magic Window, was also shown infrequently on cable TV.

Ringing Bell was never released in the UK.

Chirin No Suzu Ringing Bell Book Chirin No Suzu Poster   Chirin no suzu VHS
Ringing Bell DVD
Recent release of the book
Japanese cinema poster
First Japanese VHS
Japanese DVD release

In a change from the norm this review will be adopting a "kids safe" colour scheme, to help promote responsible parenting. When a scene or, failing that, brief segment is considered 'family fun' the text will be rendered green. For scenes that fall outside what would normally be considered 'typical kiddies cartoon hi-jinks' (aka cause irreversible trauma) the passage will appear in red. Events considered neutral will remain black.

Just from that mournful, and more than a little tone deaf, opening theme you can tell this isn't your typical merry childrens tale. Just the lyric...

"#Run and play in the snow, For now that's all the life you'll know
Seasons pass, you will see that life's not all that free#"

 ...set to a bleak, wintry, backdrop tells you this ain't no Ice Age!

The hero/anti-hero of the story fades in to a cloudy background. He takes a stroll and plays with a butterfly while the narrator speaks. All accompanied by weird, otherworldly sounds and the ringing of his bell.

ringing bell chirin no suzu chirins bell

"When we are young, we don't know a lot of things, but the small amount of knowledge we do possess makes us happy. Knowing our home, our friends, how to get places and, maybe, how to get back. The world is a strange new place, a great puzzle - sights and sounds and smells are its pieces. We see things we know nothing about. Things that surprise us, and sometimes sadden us. But, as we explore and grow, the time comes that we learn. We learn about the world... and we grow older."

Chirin laughs and bounces around a field of clover amongst the rest of his flock, happy and carefree. While enjoying his playtime, he accidentally rolls close to the perimeter fence, fortunately his loving mother is close by. She gently warns Chirin not to play outside the fence and to stay within the safety of its boundaries. Beyond the wooden border is the territory of the Wolf King (although this is one of the only times he is referred to in his full regal title) a very dangerous, and highly carnivorous monster. Mother Lamb makes sure to repeat this warning several times for emphasis but Chirin still seems distracted. He bounds off to play with a rabbit.

ringing bell chirin no suzu chirins bell

A further verse of the flat yet foreboding theme plays as the sun sinks on the horizon, casting long shadows across the meadow. It's getting dark and Chirin is nowhere to be found. Mother searches for her lost son, growing increasingly anxious with each negative reply she receives when asking of his whereabouts. But it is not long before she finds him fast asleep in the grass, she is very relieved to find him safe and well.

ringing bell chirin no suzu chirins bell

"The month's passed as did the brightness of Summer... into the darker tones of Autumn."

So, now even Autumn is sinister?

The lambs sleep quietly in their barn while a strong wind blows around the outside. Barking dogs wake them suddenly. The barks quickly turn to yelps, and then silence. A moment passes, and then the door bursts open. The sight of the Wolf King's silhouette sends the ladies into a mad panic, one even collapses, foaming at the mouth. His attack is savage and fast - Chirin is mesmerized. Proving that he would kill even the younglings, Wolf pounces for the boy but mother leaps between them. The Wolf is gone and silence falls in the barn. Chirin tries to stir his mother but she won't wake up. Slowly the horrible truth dawns on him as he pleas fruitlessly for her to "come back".

ringing bell chirin no suzu chirins bell
ringing bell chirin no suzu chirins bell

"Chirin couldn't understand what his mother had done to deserve dying at the hands of the Wolf King. What did any of the sheep do, for that matter? But the Wolf still came, and the sheep still died... helpless at the fangs of their enemy. Nature had been unfair to Chirin, and to his mother."

ringing bell chirin no suzu chirins bell

Burning with rage, young Chirin bounds under the supposed safety of the fence and into the mountain kingdom of the Wolf, seeking revenge. It's only a brief, yet arduous, journey before he finds his enemy. The terrifying, shadowy Wolf King lays nonplussed as Chirin leaps at him swearing revenge and threatening to kill him. But he is clearly nothing of a match as the young lamb is batted away by the murderous Wolf's tail and sent tumbling down the rock face.

ringing bell chirin no suzu chirins bell

The next day the battered Chirin finds Wolf once more, but this time he has a different plan on his mind. Tired of being a helpless victim, cowering within the confines of the meadow Chirin wants to learn to become to the powerful aggressor and wants the Wolf to teach him. Maybe this is the only way he can get the strength he needs to avenge his mother's murder. Wolf is less than interested but Chirin is persist ant. His nagging demands build and build and build in insistence until the Wolf finally speaks - an audience of under 8's doesn't sleep for a fortnight.

ringing bell chirin no suzu chirins bell

"Do me a favour; go back to your meadow and get fat and in a couple of months I'll have you for dinner..." Despite his sinister, deep and echoing voice (which must have been the point where more than a few children decided they had reached their limit and hit 'stop' > 'eject') Chirin continues to pester him. In order to prove his seriousness Chirin takes on a field of Yaks in the closest this film comes to a comedic sequence (but even the cattle's laughter is an unnerving sound). Ridiculed by Wilder beast, then embarrassed by a skunk the trainee wolf finally ends up horribly tangled in vicious looking thorned weeds after an unsuccessful confrontation with a pack of gophers. Dejected, beaten and exhausted Chirin continues to shadow the Wolf King.

ringing bell chirin no suzu chirins bell

The next day he sees how it should be done as Wolf fearlessly battles a giant grizzly bear and, later, takes down several fleeing deer in a savage and calculated attack. Even when confronted with such unpleasant truths Chirin refuses to give up on his dream and continues his determined journey. Even when nearly drowned by a raging river he continues his pursuit.

ringing bell chirin no suzu chirins bell

"And Chirin did not give up. He followed the Wolf, though it meant day after day of constant travel. Sometimes he saw things that reminded him of his home [in this case Thumper from Bambi] but he went on. Through the forest, through the meadows..."

While on his travels Chirin crosses paths with an evil looking snake threatening a small bird. It quickly kills the bird and tosses its lifeless body aside so it can get to her eggs. Chirin leaps in between to defend the now orphaned will-be-birds and wrestles aggressively with the dangerous reptile until it grows tired and slithers off to find a less well defended snack. In what has to be the biggest sucker punch in a film full of sucker punches, an exhausted Chirin turns to find the nest overturned in the struggle and every one of the eggs smashed on the ground around the dead bird. He had destroyed the very things he was fighting to defend. "They're broken, all of them! I smashed her eggs!" wails the young lamb "Why did it happen? Why? Why do the weak have to die? It isn't fair!"

ringing bell chirin no suzu chirins bell

Wolf happens to be watching. "In order for some to live, others must die. That is the law of nature. From the moment of birth, life is one endless struggle and only the strong can survive." Wolf finally sees that Chirin really might have what it takes to become the powerful, ruthless killer he longs to be. "Life deals out few things besides pain. But from that pain you'll grow sharp, strong fangs though they may not be the kind you can see! ... I will teach you how to live the life of a wolf, but it won't be easy pipsqueak. For the world I live in is a hell, where death is always close by. You'll need stamina, determination and the will to survive!"

"And so it came to pass, Chirin became pupil and the Wolf his teacher."

Under Wolf's guidance Chirin leaves the gentle, passive ways of the flock behind and begins his journey. Brutal sparing and head butting through trees are all part of his daily regime.

ringing bell chirin no suzu chirins bell

"A day never passed that Chirin didn't suffer from the pain of his lessons. At times he thought he was going to die... but he didn't!"

Chirin's rise to infamy is played out in another musical interlude. Stills depict him taking on a pack of panthers and a huge grizzly bear. Soon his is transformed into a fearsome, almost demonic, adult ram.

ringing bell chirin no suzu chirins bell

"Two years have now passed. Chirin has changed from a determined lamb into a fearsome beast."

An unrecognisable Chirin stands atop the mountain along the Wolf he once hated, whom he now sees as his father.

"And so Chirin and the Wolf became a team with a reputation for ruthless killing known throughout the land. They were unstoppable, charging their prey with insane recklessness."

At last the time has come for Chirin to attack the barn that was once his home, and kill within it the sheep that were his former flock. Charging through the wind and rain Chirin kills the numerous dogs sent to protect the sheep - inside the cattle quake in terror as Chirin's mother once did - all too aware of what is approaching. With security dealt with the terrifying beast steps in to complete his mission. The horrified flock don't even recognise the creature they see as one of their own. Catching sight of a young petrified lamb shielded by its equally frightened mother is too much for Chirin to bare - he can't go through with it.

ringing bell chirin no suzu chirins bell
ringing bell chirin no suzu chirins bell

|n the rain outside Chirin is confronted by the Wolf. His surrogate father isn't pleased to see such weakness but realises he must do it himself, to show Chirin how it is done. Chirin stands in his way but, when the Wolf won't back down, he is forced to act. Charging his teacher opens old wounds and long forgotten feelings come flooding back. Their battle is brief. The master dies by his pupils hand, relived that his inevitable killing came at his son's hand.

ringing bell chirin no suzu chirins bell

"Chirin tried to tell the frightened sheep that he had once lived with them in the meadow... but nobody believed him. The creature they saw before them was not one of their kind. Chirin was neither Wolf nor Sheep. He was an animal that caused only fear and terror. He wouldn't find a home again with the sheep of his childhood. And, without the Wolf, Chirin realised he had no home at all."

Retreating back to the mountains, the ram stares into a murky puddle, seeing his training under the guidance of the Wolf and hearing his words. Suddenly he thinks he sees the reflection of his lost master but it's just his imagination. Chirin is left alone on the bleak mountainside crying out for his only friend as the snow begins to fall.

ringing bell chirin no suzu chirins bell

"The snow fell for days without letting up, covering the ground with a smooth, white blanket. Whatever happened on that mountain, whatever happened in that meadow, was covered up without a trace to remind those that had witnessed it. And later some claimed to have remembered Chirin as a lamb, others said he was a spirit from the mountain. But they were to wrapped up with their own lives to worry about it for long and one night, during a terrible blizzard, the gentle sound of a bell was heard but the sheep of the meadow never saw Chirin again..."

Missing videos Missing videos

Chirin Begins: Death of a Lamb
The first scene of bloodshed. The Wolf King
gets the munchies and an enemy for life

Wolf Vs Ram: The Unhappy Ending
Dogs die. The Wolf Dies. Chirin Dies alone.
Happy dreams, kids!

Great animation
Great dub
  Great script
  Great score
  Great story
Slightly dodgy singing
  Cropped image

Ringing Bell is a really great movie, one of my favourite finds in the Bargain Bin. The animation is great, the abstract sounds are great, the art style and all the elements are fitting. The characters don't look too cute or mawkish as in Sanrio's follow up Hoshi No Orpheus, but maintain the right balance for the tone of the opening and then evolve with the subsequent events.

The English production isn't a let down either. It is easily head and shoulders above everything I've seen so far in my rummage through the Bin. With one of those horrible Hong Kong dubs or a shoddy script it would have been robbed of its drama and kept the audience from being drawn into the story. But, to me, it seems real care had been put into this localisation. The singing may be slightly off-key but even that doesn't detract from a fittingly foreboding score. And thank god Chirin didn't sound like Sanrio's Unico!

With that said - this story is mindblowingly miserable, but I like that. There really is no silver lining in this tale of a happy life denied by the cruelness of fate and nature. I can't imagine why someone would've risked their money bringing this feature to America as a children's video, but I'm glad they did. I wonder how many kids saw Ringing Bell through to the end, let alone watched it more than once?

I realise this is a fairly redundant statement to make about a 25 year old VHS tape that has long been out of print and is now very hard to find - but you really must see this!