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.
These 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.
At 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”.
When 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.
The 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.