Not many of us remember this little gem of a movie. It came out in 1978, a time when my mother was a teenager. It wasn’t hard to find considering it’s an older movie and many older movies tend to go under the copyright and removal radar unless it was a “mainstream” old movie. That’s a different story.
Chirin’s Bell was a movie I had found by chance on YouTube when I was still in elementary or middle school, I don’t specifically remember which. I was on the prowl for free children’s movies people had so kindly uploaded to waste some time. This was a simpler time when YouTube wasn’t all about the monetary value of uploading and people just shared movies they loved simply because they wanted others to see. I thought it was going to be a cute movie since we got a splashscreen of “Sanrio Films” before the intro. I looked it up and sure enough, this Sanrio is the same one we all know and love as the producer of Hello Kitty and friends.
I mean, it’s a movie about a tiny little lamb. It’s bound to be fun and innocent.
What could go wrong if the producer is the same one as Hello Kitty? This is bound to be a cute movie, right?
Chirin’s Bell went on to become one of my favorite animated movies that I’ll never watch again. Why? Because though it may seem all bright and happy and started off fairly corny, it got dark and it got hard to watch. Though they saved the toughest part to sit through for the end I supposed that helped but not really.
I had to watch it in English because I was uneducated in the ways of Google and I didn’t know if an English subbed version existed online. It was a fairly short movie, not even reaching an hour on the clock but it felt like a lifetime. It wasn’t horrible in a scarring way, but it made you think for a very long time and that’s one of the reasons why I could never forget it.
Take Charlotte’s Web the animated movie that came out in 1973 and take a look back at all the times that we’re allowed moments of silence for a gentle song or take a look at the atmosphere of Charlotte’s death and I’m reminded of Chirin’s Bell. There is a style that is really similar in both movies. No surprise, they came out in the same decade. They were fairly dark even though it was aimed at children and both ended ambiguously. I won’t talk about Charlotte’s Web 2…that movie didn’t exist to me.
The story of Chirin started out fairly simple, but turned rather complex midway through. A baby lamb who is oftentimes too adventurous for his own good wears a bell about his neck so his mother can locate him if he happens to stray. One night, his mother is killed by a wolf who lives in the nearby mountains while she attempts to protect Chirin and Chirin, being a child, does not understand why she had to die. This traumatic experience instilled within Chirin the desire to avenge his mother and so we follow his steady descent into the loss of innocence and the birth of darkness. He journeys into the mountains to ask the wolf to take him on as a disciple and in the end, overcomes the old wolf and kills him, leaving Chirin ultimately alone. He had lost his only father figure in his greed for vengeance. And he became the one thing he sought to destroy in his quest for justice- a monster.
It’s no surprise that this movie was banned in many countries. Children are mostly permitted to watch a lot of brainless animation and films, I must say. This movie might have given them the wrong idea perhaps. It would probably scar a few hearts and break a few minds, but there are always worse things you can expose your child to- such as the internet.
By the end of the movie, rather than thinking this was some evil creation that should be shunned I just felt sad because ultimately it is a movie that makes us question our decisions and it makes one think about the upbringing or lack thereof of others. It was a film that ended with loss and loneliness and the “hero’s journey” ultimately yielded nothing but an unfavorable result.
Chirin, who always questioned why the weak had to die at the paws of the strong had just committed the crime that he had questioned all his life. This broke him and so he chose to vanish.
So now you can understand why I would never want to watch it again in its entirety. It’s just a very hard to digest movie, like Grave of the Fireflies but unlike Grave of the Fireflies. Only after your heart has been broken so many times and you have grown numb to the world, can I sit down and watch this movie again.