Before Madoka, there was Chirin
Chirin no Suzu, known to the few English speakers who’ve seen it as Ringing Bell, is a short (46 min) 1978 children’s anime movie from Japan.
The movie isn’t that well-known outside of Japan, and I suspect it’s not that well-known in Japan itself either, despite the impressive staff that worked on it.
It was directed by Masami Hata, who worked in various positions across numerous classic anime, the music was composed by Taku Izumi, who is held in high esteem by all the 20 or so people who know who he is, and Chirin himself (in his adult form) is voiced by Akira Kamiya, a gay-looking midget best known for voicing Kenshiro in Hokuto no Ken and Ryou in City Hunter.
Most notably, the author of the storybook this was adapted from is the legendary Takashi Yanase, best known as the original creator of Anpanman, the hero with a red bean bun for a head that was inspired by hunger hallucinations Yanase had as a soldier during WWII.
At the time of writing, Anpanman is the sixth-highest grossing media franchise in the world, just behind Star Wars. So you’re clearly missing out on something.
Chirin no Suzu starts with shots of cold snowy mountains which, along with the lyrics of the main theme that is played, foreshadow the unhappy ending.
The location is vaguely central European, but no specifics are given and no humans appear at any point during the movie.
The story then moves on to scenes of Chirin screwing around, chasing butterflies, moles, playing with rabbits and generally being a lot more hyperactive than the other lambs, which are depicted as very timid and shy.
At some point, Chirin reaches the farm’s fence, and as he looks beyond it, his mother comes along and makes him promise to never go beyond it, because the world is a dangerous place and there’s even a wolf in the mountains nearby who eats sheep.
We then see a number of scenes of the peaceful life on the farm, which is suddenly ended one autumn night when the wolf that Chirin’s mother warned him about barges into the stable.
After killing another sheep, the wolf sets his eyes on Chirin, and as he lunges at him, his mother jumps and shields him from the wolf, sacrificing herself for her son.
Chirin is initially unaware that his mother is dead, but that doesn’t last long.
Afterwards, he goes into a depression that lasts for around a minute or so…
…until he decides to go to the mountains and kill the wolf in revenge.
The other sheep, true to their name, just stare at him and say and do nothing to aid him in his quest.
Chirin finds the wolf sleeping and starts yelling at him, demanding he give him back his dead mother.
The wolf just casually whacks him with his tail, and sends Chirin into a ravine, knocking him out in the process.
Chirin wakes up in the morning, and realizing that he’s not getting his mother back and he can’t really hurt the wolf, decides instead to ask the wolf to become his teacher instead, and teach him how to become a wolf.
The wolf refuses, and tell Chirin to go back to his pasture and fatten up so he’ll eat him one day.
Chirin refuses, and instead tries to become a wolf by himself by going hunting, which ends as well as you’d expect.
He then goes back to the wolf, and starts following him around.
At one point, Chirin sees a bird defending her nest from a snake.
The snake kills the bird, and then Chirin jumps in to chase off the snake, and manages to do so, but not without breaking the eggs he was trying to defend in the first place.
The wolf, who was watching from the shadows, gives Chirin a crash course in how the world works, explaining to him that “Someone has to die so that someone else can live, that’s the law of nature. You either live or you die. This is a world of endless battles.”
Chirin basically says that he doesn’t want to live his life scared to leave his meadow, and that that’s why he wants to become a wolf himself.
At this point, inspired by the lad, the wolf decides to take him in as a student – “Living means knowing sadness. Use that sadness to sharpen the fangs of your heart.”
And because this film precedes the introduction of subtlety to Japan, Chirin tells the wolf that he’ll kill him as soon as he’s strong enough, which the wolf doesn’t seem to mind.
The movie then turns into a brief training arc which slowly shows Chirin becoming stronger by smashing into trees, hunting and sparring with his wolf-sensei, and eventually becoming strong enough to defeat a bear and even a group of black panthers for some reason.
Fast forward and Chirin is shown to be a powerful, ruthless beast just like the wolf he wanted to become, except that he uses his horns and hooves instead of his teeth and claws.
He also no longer wants to kill the wolf to avenge his mother, but instead claims to have been reborn on the mountain, and even tells the wolf he thinks of him as his father.
The wolf then takes Chirin back home, to the pasture he was raised in, and asks Chirin if he can kill all the sheep there.
Chirin replies that he has no home, only lust for prey.
The pasture now has a pack of guard dogs, but they’re no match for Chirin, who kills them all very easily.
Chirin then enters the stable and sees a sheep protecting her lamb, just like his mother did, which is too much for Chirin to bear.
He runs back to wolf-sensei and tells him he can’t do it, at which point wolf-sensei tells him he’ll show him how to do it.
Chirin tries to stop him and attacks him when he refuses, at which point Chirin suddenly remembers that he’s a sheep and that he has to avenge his mother.
The fighting stops when Chirin gives wolf-sensei a mortal blow by sticking his horns into his chest, but the wolf seems content with this – “This is the destiny of a lone wolf. I always knew I’d end up dying a miserable death. But I’m glad you’re the one who killed me. I’m grateful…”
Chirin then turns to his fellow sheep, but they shut the door in his face with terror in their eyes.
Realizing that this is no longer his home, that he no longer has a home, Chirin goes back into the mountains, full of regret and forever alone.
We can learn a lot of lessons from this good movie.
One of them is that nature is not nice.
Unlike the Disney movies, and to a lesser extent the Ghibli ones, where nature is a goofy utopia where everything is wonderful until humans come along and mess up everything, this depicts a much more appropriate and realistic way of viewing the world, and I would recommend this movie to anyone who wants to vaccinate his kids against veganism, anti-speciesism or some of the other inane liberal ideologies.
The other thing thing we can learn from this is that nature has laws, and laws that you can’t defeat no matter how strong you are.
The wolf understood this, and so he lived and died as a wolf, and he lived and died content.
Chirin didn’t understand this, and lived a miserable life of hardship and later, of loneliness.
Don’t be Chirin.