A baby lamb named Chirin 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 of his childhood home and into the wilderness to seek the fearsome Wolf King.
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, non-conformity, and revenge.Chirin (チリン) - A young, cheerful and innocent lamb who has no understanding of life and death. He always wears a bell around his neck. As a result of his quest to kill the wolf, he grows into an antelope-like ram with grey wool and long horns, but is rejected by his friends as a result of his monstrous appearance.
Chirin's mother - An ewe who is very loving towards her son Chirin. Her death at the paws of Woe sets the plot in motion.
Wolf (ウォー Woe in the Japanese version) - An aging black wolf with a scar across one eye. The wolf lives in the mountains surrounding the farm and kills and eats his prey based on the belief that he must continue the cycle of nature.
The other sheep - The nameless sheep on the farm are timid creatures who offer Chirin no comfort or support when his mother is killed. When Chirin returns as an adult, the flock immediately rejects him, horrified at what he has become.
Chirin is a lamb who lives in the meadows with his mother. He wears a bell around his neck so he can be found in case he falls into the valley. Chirin's mother warns him not to go too far as he could get eaten by a wolf, but the lamb doesn't completely understand. One wolf who lives in the mountains named Uou attacks the meadows in the night, killing all of the sheep except Chirin, who was protected by his mother. The following morning, Chirin, now apparently ridden with survivor's guilt, climbs the mountains to confront Uou and asks the wolf to make him his apprentice because he wants to be a strong wolf just like him. Uou is touched by this and agrees to train Chirin on a daily basis.
As three years of seasons pass, Chirin, vowing to be stronger than a wolf, grows into a black ram that is more of a fearsome beast, with him and Uou becoming a team that brings chaos and fear to everyone else. The two plan to attack a sheep farm (implied to be the same one Chirin grew up in) the following night, which brews up a storm. After Chirin goes first to take out the dog, Uou follows and is ambushed by Chirin, who reveals that he had been training to become stronger than Uou just so he could get revenge on the one that took his mother away: Uou himself. Chirin stabs Uou, who admits that he is proud of Chirin before dying. After the storm clears, Chirin begins to understand that his revenge did not make him feel any lighter and confesses his love for Uou as a teacher and a father. Chirin also realizes that from this point on, he can no longer go back to being a sheep and aimlessly wanders the mountains alone.
The final page states that even though Chirin is never seen again, the faint sound of his bell can still be heard on stormy nights.
The movie opens with a baby lamb named Chirin living an idyllic life on a farm with many other sheep. Chirin is very adventurous and tends to get lost, so he wears a bell around his neck so that his mother can always find him. His mother warns Chirin that he must never venture beyond the fence surrounding the farm, because a huge black wolf lives in the mountains and loves to eat sheep. Chirin is too young and naive to take the advice to heart, until one night the wolf enters the barn and is prepared to kill Chirin, but at the last moment the lamb's mother throws herself in the way and is killed instead.
The wolf leaves, and Chirin is horrified to see his mother's body. Unable to understand why his mother was killed, he becomes very angry and swears that he will go into the mountains and kill the wolf. He leaves alone, and when he finally comes upon the wolf he challenges him to fight. The wolf simply ignores him and walks away, and Chirin follows. This continues for some time, and Chirin realizes that the only way he can fight the wolf is by becoming strong like him. After much begging, the wolf relents and tells Chirin he will train him, knowing that Chirin intends to kill him one day. Chirin's training lasts well into his adulthood, and by this time he has become a vicious killer, and views the wolf as his father. Together they travel the mountains, killing indiscriminately.
One night the wolf takes Chirin to the farm where the lamb was born. Chirin claims not to remember it, saying that his home is on the plains with the wolf. The wolf watches while the ram graphically fights the farm dogs, then watches Chirin enter the barn, where the terrified sheep have gathered, while the wolf waits outside. Chirin spots a very young lamb that strongly resembles himself, cowering in the middle of the barn, and as he approaches, the lamb's mother throws herself in the way. Struck by this similarity to his past, Chirin is startled and confused, and leaves the barn without killing the sheep. When the wolf demands to know why, Chirin tells him that he can't bring himself to do it.
The wolf walks towards the barn to do the job himself, and Chirin begs him to spare the sheep. When the wolf will not listen, Chirin becomes furious and charges at him. After a brief fight, Chirin impales the wolf on his horns. The wolf expresses his gratitude and pride for Chirin, and dies. Chirin is saddened, but turns to the sheep in the barn, who quickly shut the door. When Chirin tries to tell them that he grew up on the farm, none of the sheep believe him, saying that such a terrifying animal could not be one of them. Chirin gives up and returns to the mountains alone.
As Chirin stands by a pool of water near the wolf's den, he hallucinates the wolf's reflection in the water next to his own. He turns to see the wolf, but realizes he is alone. Chirin stands alone in the mountains, yelling for the wolf, as the snow begins to fall, and as the movie draws to a close the narrator informs the viewers that no one ever saw Chirin again, but that the faint sound of his bell can still be heard in the wind on a snowy night.Chirin - Minori Matsushima (lamb), Akira Kamiya (ram)
Chirin's mother - Taeko Nakanishi
Uou - Seizō Katō
Narrator - Hitoshi Takagi
The Brothers Four
Chirin - Barbara Goodson (lamb), Gregg Berger (ram)
Chirin's mother - Sandra Snow
Wolf - Bill Capizzi
Narrator - Ron Gans
The Brothers Four
Reception and controversy
Ringing Bell has received positive reviews from critics. In Japan, it has been regarded as one of the most revolutionary anime of the 1970s, along with Galaxy Express 999 and Heidi, Girl of the Alps. Though it is not as well known outside Japan, Western critics such as Justin Sevakis of Anime News Network praised the dark storyline and artwork, and noted that it delivered a "sort of quick punch-to-the-face of the innocent." Sevakis also commented that "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." One of the most negative comments about the film came from Kimiko Anime Network who stated that the film should not be viewed by young children and could cause emotional trauma.