Ringing Bell, originally titled "Chirin no Suzu" meaning "Bell of Chirin" in Japan, is a forty-seven-minute-long film, and was released in 1978 by Sanrio, the makers of the cult classics "Unico" and "The Sea Prince and the Fire Child". "Ringing Bell" starts off as a children's film but quickly merges into a darkly toned story of the laws of nature and revenge. It has also been viewed in the past as a cautionary tale about venturing away from home, nonconformity, and the futility of seeking revenge.
The movie has Yukio Abe's beautiful artistic style, and for those familiar with "Unico," the main character is voiced by the same female voice actor during Chirin's younger years. The quality and style of this film is signature to Sanrio earlier productions. Also like "Unico", this film is a musical, where background songs set the theme instead of characters actually singing.
Summary of the Plot
A baby lamb named Chirin (Chee-rin) is devastated when his mother is killed by a wolf who raids the farm in the night. Seeking revenge, he must become like the very thing he wishes to destroy, and he must venture far beyond the safety his home and childhood into the wilderness to seek the fearsome Wolf King.
The Complete Story
The story begins with narration introducing us to a young lamb named Chirin. It highlights his happy and carefree childhood life in the Meadow with the other sheep and the strong bond he and his mother share. Unlike the other lambs in the Meadow, he tends to venture away from his mother, and because of this he was given a bell to wear to make it easier for his mother to locate her very energetic baby.
She at one point tries to teach him of the dangers of the world and how staying behind the Meadow fence will keep them safe, but Chirin is distracted, as children can be, and runs off to play without a care in the world.
One night in the barn, a ferocious wolf attacks, and Chirin's mother is killed while trying to protect him. Confused and angry over how unfair life has been to his mother and the other helpless sheep of the Meadow, Chirin sets out past the fence into the wild lands beyond in search of the wolf with the scar on his eye. He is determined to get revenge, and his life is from here on turned upside down.
Climbing high into the mountains, driven on by sheer vengeance, Chirin finds the wolf, and it is the Wolf King of the mountain. At first, he attacks the wolf proclaiming he'll kill him for what he's done to Chirin's family, but he is just a baby lamb and too weak to avenge his mother's death. Exhausted and beat up from his harsh journey, Chirin has no choice but to sleep off his rage when he collapses.
In the morning, Chirin comes back to the wolf where he is still sleeping with the idea of becoming a wolf or at least becoming as strong as one with the idea that he can defeat him one day. After much loud badgering that seems not to get the wolf's attention, he finally shouts at the lamb to be quiet and go back to his meadow where he belongs. When Chirin continues to defy him, the wolf passes him and goes down to the forests and prairies beneath the mountain. He shows Chirin, in a display of superior force and ferocity against several animals, what it is to be a wolf and that his life is full of violence and struggle. Though horrified, Chirin is determined and refuses to go back to the Meadow. The wolf carries on with his life, all the while with Chirin following somewhere close behind. Somehow he manages to keep up, but the wolf pays the mere morsel little attention. When Chirin gets swept away in the rapids one day while trying to keep up, the wolf stares at the water for a moment and before moving on states "So much for dinner." That night however, he is shocked to see Chirin crawl out of the darkness and collapse at his feet, vowing to never stop following him no matter how long it takes. The wolf heads off into the night to think, leaving the exhausted baby lamb to rest.
The next morning, Chirin is following the wolf again when he sees a green snake attack and kill a bluebird before moving to eat the nest of eggs she was protecting. Enraged at his childhood playing itself out yet again, Chirin attacks the snake, but the eggs are still destroyed in the attempt to protect them. He breaks down crying not understanding why the weak have to die in nature while the strong thrive. The wolf comes over and asks why Chirin wants to become a wolf so badly, and the lamb explains that the sheep could do nothing to protect themselves and were too scared to try. "I don't want to be killed, I want to be strong!" he sobs. The wolf says that by confronting his anger, Chirin will grow strong and eventually grow metaphoric fangs like a wolf. Chirin is told that if he is willing to face the hard life of a wolf, the wolf has finally decided to teach him to survive in a harsh world. More sure in his decision than ever, Chirin proclaims that some day he will become even stronger than his teacher and one day defeat him. The wolf is intrigued by Chirin's determination but merely says to him "Hmph, we'll see..."
Long months of training follow, but Chirin does grow stronger, never giving up in spite of the pain of his lessons, and instead of fangs he grows sharp horns. He travels beside the wolf as he grows older and stronger. There is a montage scene where his newfound strength and equally wolfish ferocity are displayed even when he is still small. We see him age (albeit a bit clumsily) into a huge grey ram with horns grown like daggers, cold eyes and a tiny remnant of his past in the Meadow still around his neck: the bell he wore for his mother. As the wolf and him now stand together on the mountain, he attests that he had thought of killing the wolf previously but that his new life as the wolf's pupil has changed his view of things, and he now sees him more as a father. The wolf tells him that he is very proud of Chirin, and that even the Wolf King could not turn him aside.
One night, the two return to the Meadow of Chirin's birth, and the wolf asks if Chirin will be able to attack his home, but Chirin assures him that the only home he has is the mountain and the wilderness surrounding it where he hunts. The wolf sends Chirin down into the Meadow to take care of the guard dogs, and Chirin kills them off easily, sending the sheep in the barn into a frenzy. He enters the barn with intent to kill, but suddenly hears the familiar cry of a baby lamb calling out to its mother in fear. In shock, he watches as the mother frantically tries to save her baby by shielding him with her body. Chirin suffers an Identity crisis (psychology), and he can't do what he's come to do.
Backing out of the barn, Chirin is greeted by an angry and disappointed Wolf. "I'll teach you one last lesson, pipsqueak. This is something that even a weakling can do!" he scolds, but Chirin will not let him pass. When the ram is backed up against the barn doors by an approaching Wolf, he charges at him, trying to protect the defenseless sheep in the barn. Confused, the wolf calls him a fool and easily dodges him, but Chirin grows enraged and charging yet again screams "I am a ram! And you're the wolf that killed my mother!"
A crack of lightning splits the sky, and we see the wolf impaled on Chirin's horns as the rain pours down. Gasping, he gives his last words to Chirin. "I always knew this day would come, that I would die in some field somewhere at the hands of someone stronger, but I'm glad that the one who finally did it was you, Chirin..." Suddenly, Chirin realizes his mistake and that this is not what he wished for the wolf, but even trying to go back to the barn he just saved, he is rejected by the terrified sheep. What they see is neither a wolf nor a sheep. They do not believe him when he tries to tell them he is a ram from their meadow, and so he leaves and heads back up to the mountain where his training began, alone and with no one and therefore with no true home. Heartbroken, Chirin cries desperatly for the wolf to come back, but there is no reply.
It is said in narration that the sheep sometimes thought that they'd remembered Chirin as a lamb but that they were too wrapped up in their own lives to be concerned with it. One night, during a terrible blizzard, the gentle sound of a bell is heard. But the sheep in the meadow never see Chirin again. Beyond this are the ending credits full of animation sequences following the days of Chirin and the Wolf King. Several baby lambs are in the Meadow in a new Spring, and they venture near the fence, but their mother pulls them back quickly before they go very far. Looking up at the mountain, it is implied that the family of sheep seem to know the tale of Chirin.