FUNNY ANIMALS AND MORE
January 31, 2016 posted by

“Ringing Bell” (1978) and “One Stormy Night” (2005)

Ringing Bell (Chirin’s Bell; Chirin no Suzu), directed by Masami Hata. 47 minutes. March 11, 1978.

One Stormy Night (Arashi no Yoru Ni), directed by Gisaburo Sugii. 105 minutes. December 10, 2005.

ringing-bell-video-japanThese two were actually theatrical releases, not OAVs. The second one, certainly. Ringing Bell was produced by Sanrio and released in Japan on a theatrical double bill with its 83-minute The Mouse and His Child. But it was intended primarily for the OAV market. In the U.S. it was shown on TV and was one of the first animated cartoon videos in the early 1980s, from RCA/Columbia Home Video.

Ringing Bell was G-rated in the U.S. and shown as a TV children’s film, but its switch from the opening of traditional Disney-cartoon lightness to a dark Law-of-the-Jungle brutality earned it a very mixed critical reception, ranging from praise for its honesty to a R-rating for violence, and being banned in some countries as unsuitable for children.

The opening credits featuring plaintive, mournful music under a bleak, characterless, snow-filled landscape do not seem to match the opening story of Chirin as a happy baby lamb, gamboling within his flock during the bright summer. His worried mother warns him to remain in the meadow inside the fence, because the mountains beyond are the Wolf King’s domain. Chirin does not pay any attention to her.

During winter, the sheep are cozy in their byre when the Wolf King breaks in. Chirin’s mother is killed protecting him. Chirin is traumatized by her death, in an extended scene that must have scared little children who watched it.

Chirin, still a cute baby lamb, goes beyond the fence to challenge the Wolf King for vengeance. The wolf contemptuously ignores him. Chirin yells that he is tired of being a helpless sheep, and he wants to become the wolf’s apprentice and learn to become a scary predator.

ringing-bell-celAt first all the animals laugh at the baby lamb, but he finally impresses the wolf by his perseverance into accepting him as his apprentice. “The day never passed when Chirin did not suffer from the pain from his lessons. At times he thought that he was going to die.” After two years, Chirin grows into an adult ram and the wolf takes him on as a full partner. They become a deadly team. In winter, they return to the byre within which all the sheep live. They break in, but Chirin remembers his mother sacrificing herself for him, and he challenges the wolf to protect the sheep. Chirin stabs the wolf with his horns, and the dying wolf says that he is proud to have trained Chirin so well. Chirin is now the protector of the sheep, except that they are all terrified of him and shrink from him as though he was another wolf. He wanders out into the snowstorm and is never seen again.

This is one of those titles that people today say they dimly remember seeing as a child, but nobody else has ever heard of it or believes them. The voice dubbing on Ringing Bell seems unusually bad, with the voices seldom matching the animation’s lip movements. Admittedly, the Japanese animators have not given the voice actors much to work with here.

When Arashi no Yoru ni came along 25 years later, it reminded many in Japan and the anime fans in America very much of Chirin no Suzu; so I am including it here even though it was definitely a theatrical feature in Japan. It was never released in America, theatrically or on DVD, but it was known to American fans from the illegal video copies. It should be noted that both Ringing Bell and One Stormy Night were based upon popular Japanese children’s books, by Takashi Yanase and Yūichi Kimura respectively.

One Stormy Night has better production values, but seems aimed at even younger children. Mei, a small kid, is foraging with his mother when they are attacked by wolves. Mei’s mother sacrifices herself to give Mei enough time to escape back to the herd. Mei’s mother is killed, but not before she scars the face and tears the ear off the wolf leader, Giro.

Some time later, a powerful storm strikes the area with winds strong enough to blow Mei over. He gets separated from the other goats and takes shelter in a deserted, pitch-black barn. Someone else comes into the barn. They cannot see each other, or smell each other because of the wind, but huddle together for warmth. They begin to talk, becoming friends. (The movie becomes overly cute here, twisting their conversation to keep both from revealing their species.) Eventually they must look for their homes, but they resolve to meet again the next day, and to recognize each other by the phrase “one stormy night”.

stormy-night-posterWhen they meet again in daylight, they are surprised to discover that they are a goat kid and a wolf pup; but friendship triumphs over appetite. They decide to go to the top of a mountain to eat lunch while enjoying the view, but Gabu loses his lunch. While Mei eats his clover, Gabu struggles (too much) to remember that the kid is his friend, not his lunch.

Later, when the goats have gathered together, Mei tries to leave the flock to meet Gabu at Breezy Pass, but his grandmother says that it’s too dangerous to go off alone. She asks two of Mei’s playmates, Mii (girl) and Tap (boy), to accompany him. Mei can’t shake them. Tap boasts of how he’s very experienced with wolves and he’ll protect Mei, but when Gabu appears, Tap and Mii flee in a panic. It’s not until now that Mei and Gabu give their names to each other. Both agree that they had better keep their friendship secret.

The scene cuts to the wolf pack, led by Giro. Gabu and Mei have agreed to meet next in Crumbling Hills since nobody ever goes there, but Giro just happens to order the wolves there to hunt for goats. (Totally unconvincing.) Gabu is in a secret panic wondering how to protect Mei. The Crumbling Hills are swathed in such a dense fog that the wolves cannot see or smell anything, permitting Gabu to hide Mei.

But both the goat flock and the wolf pack have realized that Mei and Gabu are “fraternizing with the enemy”. Gabu’s best wolf friend, Barry, points out that they can’t become friends with their meals or they’ll starve to death. Each is ordered to use his friendship to find the other group’s secrets and betray them; or else. They agree, and go to their next meeting along a riverbank, but both decide that they can’t betray either their friendship or their people. They become aware that not only are all of the goats and wolves watching them (from opposite bluffs), all of the other forest animals are also spying on them. Continuing their secret friendship has become impossible, so they pretend suicide by jumping into the swift river together and are swept over a waterfall.

stormy-night-250The next day they reunite. Neither can rejoin their peoples, so they resolve to run away together to the other side of a huge mountain where neither goats nor wolves have gone before, in the hope of finding a green forest where they can live in open friendship. However, while this would work for the goats, Giro has a fanatical hatred of the goats and he despises Gabu for betraying them. He orders the other wolves, led by Barry, to find whether they are dead or still alive. The wolf pack find their trail and chase them across a large meadow in front of the mountain, but they escape across a gorge for long enough to reach the mountain.

The higher they go up the mountain, the snowier it gets. They are finally caught in a blizzard. Gabu digs a snow cave for them to huddle in. Both are starving. Mei says that since they are dying anyway, Gabu should eat him so at least one of them will become strong enough to survive. Gabu protests he’s not hungry, but his loudly rumbling stomach gives him away. Gabu leaves the cave to search for grass for Mei, and runs into the other wolves who have caught up with them. Gabu and Giro fight, making so much noise they they set off a huge avalanche. The pack flees, and it looks like Gabu is killed.

Mei emerges from the snow cave after the blizzard, and sees the green forest on the other side of the mountain. It would be a paradise for both, except for Gabu’s disappearance. One day Mei finds Gabu again, but the avalanche has given him total amnesia. He has forgotten that Mei is his best friend, and sees only a tasty goat. Gabu locks Mei in his den to save him until the next full moon. Mei cries that the wolf is no longer the Gabu that he knew. He wishes that they had never met on that stormy night. The phrase “stormy night” brings back Gabu’s memory, and their friendship is restored. The movie ends with them looking at the full moon together. The wolf pack is seen as having returned to its original home.

Yūichi Kimura wrote Arashi no Yoru Ni as a young children’s picture book in 1994. It was so popular that she wrote six sequels. Director Gisaburo Sugii at Group TAC had them combined into a single story for the movie. The movie also shows the genderless Mei as definitely male. It was extremely popular, staying in the Japanese Top Ten for over a month and selling well in DVDs and in other Asiatic countries. However, it has never become popular in America. In Japan it has become a popular children’s stage play. It became a five-episode TV series in April and May 2012, with Mei turned into a girl.

Next week: Back to real OAVs.

16 Comments

  • Yep, I remember Ringing Bell. Basically a darker take on Bambi that Disney never explored deeper.

    • Just think of the fun had they went there!

  • It’s truth both almost similar with the paing of predator and prey (of course One Stormy Night is about friendship against all odds while Ringing Bell is on the dangers of nonconformity). I never saw “Ringing Bell” as a kid, so it was quite a surprise as an adult to discover this among Sanrio’s earlier animated outputs (though I see/enjoy The Mouse and His Child as a kid, wished that was out on DVD). I would give Ringing Bell some merit for that honesty in its storyline, one the West isn’t really known for outside of perhaps fairy tales and fables were morals are clearly written out. Japanese literature often revels in stories of loss and death as a means of growth in its characters. A tale like Chirin no Suzu might reinforce that extra thought on the kind of roads or goals a child may have they don’t plan ahead for, or understand the consequences of their actions, as displayed by Chirin wanting to be a wolf and pays the ultimate price for it. Although not mentioned here, author Takashi Yanase’s other known work is that of the popular children’s series Anpanman (a anime series is still produced to this day by TMS) featuring a superhero made out of bread!

    The director of this, Masami Hata, doesn’t get much lip service it seems in the anime community, but he has done quite a lot of different projects during his career ranging from other Sanrio projects like The Sea Prince and the Fire Child or the Unico pilot, to other outside help like finishing TMS’s Little Nemo flick or even TVshows like “The Ping Pong Club” (anime’s answer to Porky’s). I see he was the director on the Stitch! TV series at Madhouse for instance, though I’m sure everyone’s seen the Super Mario Bros. animated feature he did in ’86 by now (thanks to YouTube).

    I first saw “Arashi no Yori Ni” like most others, the usual black market digitsubbed copies, though first heard of it thanks to Jerry Beck from a Cartoon Brew entry back in ’05. I knew this looked perfect the moment I saw the trailer and was confirmed when I watched it. The only thing I didn’t expect though was the constant “Rule 34” artwork that sprang up, mostly due in part to the casting of a male VA for Mei that had him sound rather teen-like against the more young adult Gabu. It was an unforseen mistake I feel but I try to ignore the worst of it.

    While it didn’t see any American release at all, some other non-Asian countries did get it on DVD anyway like Italy I think. At one point, a fan group down in Australia put together what they considered was an excellent English-dubbed version of the film they sent to TBS Films for possible inclusion as an English version they could license to the world but it didn’t pan out at all, but was uploaded to YouTube anyway. It sounds OK to me despite the cast being only four or five guys (no different from the old days I’m sure).
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HXkCs6VC6NQ

    It became a five-episode TV series in April and May 2012, with Mei turned into a girl.

    Actually it’s a 26 episode show, and was technically animated in Singapore as a co-production with Japan. Making Mei a girl at least sound sound quite as bad going by the English version they did (Gabu already sounds much younger too). Design wise, it’s a lot more stripped down from Sugii Gisaburo’s cinematic opus, the conflict is kept to a minimum, violence is non-existant, a lot of padded filler and the characters already have very squeaky smooth plastic-ish models since this was a CGI effort. I though it looked like something Disney Junior or some other channel could pick up but it didn’t happen. Also to spoil it, the series ends unresolved, just as they make it to the mountain and decide to climb it.

    The entire series is available on Hulu.
    http://www.hulu.com/one-stormy-night

    • Noticed some gaffes in my last paragraph. I was typing it while on a Bluetooth keyboard that apparently doesn’t keep up with my typing so I end up missing some letters here or there. This is what it should’ve said.

      “Actually it’s a 26 episode show, and was technically animated in Singapore as a co-production with Japan. Making Mei a girl at least didn’t sound quite as bad going by the English version they did (Gabu already sounds much younger too). Design wise, it’s a lot more stripped down from Gisaburo’s cinematic opus, the conflict is kept to a minimum, violence is non-existent, a lot of padded filler and since it’s in CGI, the characters look like smooth plastic dolls. I thought it looked like something Disney Junior or another channel could be pick up but never did. Also to spoil it, the series ends unresolved, just as they make it to the mountain and decide to climb it.”

      If only I can edit my comments after I post it.

  • Correct me if I’m wrong, but was “Ringing Bell” released on RCA’s short-lived CED platform?

    • That’s a good question. I don’t see any random images of a CED disc bearing that cover in a search, but do know of it’s VHS release. It’s funny it got a release at all given the circumstances on when it was released and who might’ve bought/rented it. Apparently it seemed like Sanrio was desperate to get many of these released in the US and RCA/Columbia Pictures Home Video seemed more than happy to do it (especially around 1983-85). Many of the theatrical releases Sanrio managed to get out in the US like Mouse and His Child, Winds of Change, The Nutcracker Fantasy or even the live-action “Don’t Cry, It’s Only Thunder”, whatever left over was a few other animated stuff that only made their exclusive release in the US either on Pay TV or on home video like the Unico movies or The Sea Prince & The Fire Child. Ringing Bell seems like the odd kid out for not having been theatrically released in the states, let alone long enough as a feature film on its own (in Japan, it received a DVD release in a compilation feature other works of Takashi Yanase that Sanrio also made short films to like “Joe & The Rose” and “Little Jumbo”), though I suppose long enough to at least fit a 50 minute cassette tape. It seemed almost unlikely to ever be seen but it happened, people made it happen. It just sorta passed on through without incident. Aside from its initial release, Ringing Bell would also see a reissue on RCA/Columbia’s kid label “Magic Window” as well, and neither release deemed it necessary to issue a disclaimer about what your 6 year old is about to see (I know the Japanese DVD did have a disclaimer at the start of the film).
      http://www.theanimegallery.com/data/thumbs/790px/0011/tAG_11681.jpg

    • I have never been able to figure out to what financial extent Sanrio in the 1970s & 1980s was just interested in its commercial profitability in America, and to what cultural extent it wanted its Japanese products to become known in America? Since then, it seems as though Sanrio has stopped marketing any films and concentrated on its “Hello Kitty” merchandise instead, at least as far as North America is concerned.

    • Fred: Most of Sanrio’s cinematic output in Japan got released to VHS and TV in the U.S. – it seems as though their disastrous experiment with “Metamorphosis” turned them off American theaters for good.

      After A Journey Through Fairyland flopped in Japan, Sanrio exclusively made animation based on its characters – much of which isn’t really worth your time – close to none of which made it to the U.S. Sanrio did have an American-made Hello Kitty show on Saturday morning in the 80s, though.

    • Fred: Most of Sanrio’s cinematic output in Japan got released to VHS and TV in the U.S. – it seems as though their disastrous experiment with “Metamorphosis” turned them off American theaters for good.

      I bet!

      After A Journey Through Fairyland flopped in Japan, Sanrio exclusively made animation based on its characters – much of which isn’t really worth your time – close to none of which made it to the U.S. Sanrio did have an American-made Hello Kitty show on Saturday morning in the 80s, though.
      A few made it to DVD in recent years through different distributors (I think AnimEigo handled some), but certainly not a whole lot.

      It’s true though they pretty much stuck to what worked (their prestigious IP’s like Hello Kitty, My Melody, Keroppi and whatever else).

      Sanrio did do a film about a decade ago I thought was a return to form for them called “Mouse Story: George and Gerald’s Adventure”. I see though Masami Hata was back at the helm on this one!
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1f2jQ7iQbnY
      http://www.animenewsnetwork.com/encyclopedia/anime.php?id=7897

      After that though they went back to the IP’s again it seems.

    • Masami Hata seems to have been a favorite with Sanrio. Aside from their great late 70s-early 80s films, he’s also worked on many of their TV shows (he was one of the directors on their first show, “Yume no Hoshi no Button Nose,” and has done various Hello Kitty-related things since).

  • The movie ends with them looking at the full moon together. The wolf pack is seen as having returned to its original home.

    The end scene alone is kinda interesting in how it’s set up. You have just the shot of Mei and Gabu where they are watching the moon, the camera then pulls all the way back, past the mountain, field, woods, eventually to stop after showing us the two places where both characters once lived (we also see a few goats in the meadow possibly Mei’s flock as they simply go about their mere existence) and we fade out. During that time, you do see the wolves as they’re heading back home. I bothered to count who was left and I can only assume Giro died in that avalanche, whether Barry lived or not is anyone’s guess since we’ll never know the future of that pack, what with who gets to be leader and all (and what would Giro’s aloof mate think of all this, she doesn’t get as much screen time other than simply napping during meetings).

    Speaking of names, did we ever know the exact translation of one of them? The one I’m talking about is “Beach”. In the fansubs, a few times he was given a name they tend to render it as “Beach” when I felt it was “Beech” (and I’m sure I’m right). These wolves already seem to get saddled with Western names it seems becides Gabu (though I’m sure “Gobble” is probably the closest it could mean anyway). Two characters of the wolf pack we get to see some use of alongside Barry are Zack (the one with the eye patch) and Beech (the silly/crazy one), who I thought were Barry’s underlings but I suppose they’re all equal anyway, but I got a kind of Balto vibe out of them (the way Steele had underlings latching onto him in that film). Of course they don’t give them much to do besides one or two moments but I enjoyed that back and forth a lot.

    Thought about Mei’s friend Mii just now. Who would’ve guessed that became a thing once the Nintendo Wii showed up.

  • I should mention, Fred, that Ringing Bell was never banned in any country; that’s a lie someone made up on either Wikipedia or the IMDB. Outside of Japan and the US, though, it’s not very well known. I’ve heard it was released on DVD in Russia.

    But the fact that it received an uncut US release is mind blowing enough; if you compare the Japanese original to the English dub you see the dialogue is softened somewhat in the transition, but not enough to bowdlerize it.

    • I should mention, Fred, that Ringing Bell was never banned in any country; that’s a lie someone made up on either Wikipedia or the IMDB. Outside of Japan and the US, though, it’s not very well known. I’ve heard it was released on DVD in Russia.

      We Americans ought to be lucky at all we got to see it at all when it could’ve just stayed in Japan anyway, unless by random chance someone of the fan community spotted it one day and had to tell everyone about it, that’s how it spreads (and why One Stormy Nights gets on everyone’s list).

      But the fact that it received an uncut US release is mind blowing enough; if you compare the Japanese original to the English dub you see the dialogue is softened somewhat in the transition, but not enough to bowdlerize it.

      The English version certainly wants to hold your hand for most of this so as to now let you go astray and get lost in the confusing narrative at the beginning.

  • Discotek Media released Ringing Bell on to DVD last year

    • Yes they did, it also has an audio commentary by Mike Toole that might be worth checking out if it gives us more details on the production (or just fanboy recollections).

    • The DVD commentary doesn’t have much info we don’t really already know, but there’s some interesting tidbits on Masami Hata and the respect he has in the anime industry.

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