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Muku-muku and her son Buru-buru
Buru-buru, good little boy, go to sleep, go to sleep
Drink plenty of milk, plenty, plenty, drink plenty
Buru-buru, good little boy, go to sleep, go to sleep
Loolalala, loolalala, loolalala, loolala...
— English translation of "Muku-muku's Lullaby".
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The Kindly Lion (やさしいライオン, "Yasashii Lion" or "The Gentle Lion") is a 1970 Japanese animated short film by Mushi Productions directed by Takashi Yanase with Osamu Tezuka as executive producer. It's an animated adaptation of the Japanese children's book of the same name by Takashi Yanase from the mid to late 1960s.

The original book and film are centered on a parental relationship between two completely different species (a lion and dog, respectively). Buru-buru is an orphaned lion cub who lost his parents at an unknown period at a zoo, while Muku-muku is a female dog who lost her puppies moments after birth. After a female rabbit discovers Buru-buru malnourished, she quickly takes him to a heartbroken Muku-muku and convinces her to become a parent. As the short progresses, the story suddenly takes a somber turn.

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The short consists of two narrators (a female narrator and a child voiced by Minori Matsushima, who is heard asking questions to the female narrator and showing concern for the characters) and uses songs written by Takashi Yanase and performed by the Japanese music group "100s" to progress the story. The short even received it's own book adaptation which uses white and green colors compared to the original version.

The original book and short film would become one of Takashi Yanase's most beloved works (along with Chirin no Suzu) and is fondly remembered by Japanese audiences. An English translation can be viewed here alongside a reading of the original book.

This short is also the first animated adaptation of Yanase's works, with future adaptations moving to Sanrio Animation, where they made two animated shorts (Little Jumbo and The Rose Flower and Joe) in 1977. They made a feature film adaptation of Chirin no Suzu (known as Ringing Bell in the west) in Spring 1978 and a comic adaptation that was released to Sanrio's defunct magazine Lyrica in June 1977.

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The Kindly Lion provides examples of::

  • Adaptation Dye-Job: In the original book, Muku-muku's fur color was brown but was changed to white in this film. In the original book Buru-buru's mane was orange colored, while it's brown or yellow in this short.
  • Adaptation Expansion: Due to the story mostly being told through song. Certain moments in the original book would get expanded. These include a majority of Buru-buru's childhood with his adopted mother, Muku-muku's lullaby, and Buru-buru as an adult dancing with Muku-muku.
  • Adult Fear: Midway through the story, Buru-buru (now fully grown up) getting separated from his mother by getting sent to a circus. Muku-muku is seen running behind the car carrying her adopted son but loses energy due to her old age. The last time Buru-buru will remember his mother is her shedding a single tear as the car gets further away from her.
  • Ambiguous Ending: Despite Buru-buru and Muku-muku getting shot by policemen, the female narrator states that Buru-buru and Muku-muku somehow survived and says that "He took Muku-muku on his back, and went running all the way to the end of the world." while we are shown bloody footprints made by Buru-buru in the snow. The narrator also states that Buru-buru and his mother were last seen around the center of the woods and suddenly disappeared. The short ends with Buru-buru running with his mother in the sky so fast that they turn into a shooting star and land on the moon.
  • Animated Adaptation: This is the first animated adaptation of Takashi Yanase's children's books.
  • Animals Lack Attributes: Buru-Buru is shown drinking milk from his mother. However, the only time Muku-muku is drawn with teats is during scenes where she's walking with her newly adopted son as a cub. Buru-Buru is also drawn with an anus during a montage of him acting more like a dog instead of a lion.
  • Art Shift: The art style for the short would switch between traditional hand-drawn art style, to Yanase's traditional water color illustration style, and finally an oil painting style. The oil art style is notably used during the closing credits for the film.
  • Audience Surrogate: The child narrator asking questions to the female narrator is sharing the same thoughts and questions as the audience watching the film.
  • Bloodless Carnage: While Buru-buru manages to get a bit of blood on his face as he attempts to break free from a cage at a circus. Near the end of the short, when Buru-buru and Muku-muku get gunned down by policemen, neither of them are bleeding but the narrator mentions bloody footprints made in the snow.
  • Dark Reprise: A somber variation of "Muku-muku's Lullaby" is heard as Buru-buru is sleeping and hears his mother's lullaby. At this point, he's mostly forgotten his life with his mother until that point. This causes him to wake up in sadness and motivates him to break out of the cage to see his mother again. After Buru-buru and his mother get gunned down by policeman, a mournful variation of Muku-muku's Lullaby is played as we see Buru-buru and Muku-muku's dead bodies.
  • Death By Child Birth: Implied to be how Buru-buru's mother died after giving birth to Buru-buru.
  • Deceased Parents Are the Best: Buru-buru is an orphaned lion who lost his parents. It's implied that his mother passed away after giving birth and his father died at an unknown point. Some of Yanase's illustrations depict his parents as angels watching over their son.
  • Downer Ending: When Buru-buru reunites with his adopted mother after years of separation, they get shot by a group of policemen. However, both versions end on an ambiguous note, hinting that the two managed to survive and ran as far away as possible.
  • Eye-Obscuring Hat: The eyes of the group of policemen are obscured by their helmets.
  • Female Feline, Male Mutt: Inverted with Muku-muku who is a female dog compared to Buru-buru who is a male lion.
  • Gentle Giant: Buru-buru is a kindhearted and sensitive male lion. Due to being raised by a dog, he doesn't act like an actual lion. Instead, he behaves like an actual dog (such as barking and whimpering) and never learned to roar.
  • Good Parents: Muku-muku is a very sweet and lovable mother who truly cares about her adopted son. She even comforts him over not looking like a dog.
  • Hope Spot: As Buru-buru is running as fast as he can to locate his mother, a group of policeman are chasing after him and preparing to kill him. When he finally finds Muku-muku, who is on death's door, he and his mother share a hug after being separated for a long period of time. Unfortunately, Buru-buru and Muku-muku are unaware that a group of policeman are seconds away from killing him and his mother.
  • Interspecies Adoption: Muku-muku (a female dog) adopts an orphaned lion (Buru-buru).
  • Limited Animation: Most of the animation consists of looping walk cycles from Buru-buru and Muku-muku. This includes both characters dancing with each other, expressing how much they love one another.
  • Parental Love Song: "Muku-muku's Lullaby" which she sings to Buku-buku as she's carrying him on her back while rocking him back and forth.
  • The Hero Dies: Muku-muku and Buru-buru both end up killed by a group of policemen after reuniting with each other. Maybe.
  • Title Drop: The short's title "The Kindly Lion" is dropped by the child narrator as he's crying over Buru-buru and Muku-muku's death.
  • Together in Death: A non-romantic example. Buru-buru and his mother end up gunned down by the end of the story. However, both characters are seen hugging each other before getting gunned down. After both get killed, we see Buru-buru's lifeless body lying on the ground while still holding on to his mother.
  • Tomato in the Mirror: Buru-buru believes himself to be an actual dog both in behavior and appearance. However, he gets horrified by his reflection in a lake and cries, thinking of himself as hideous and ugly. Thankfully, Muku-muku comforts him over his appearance and tells him "You and I appear different indeed, but in our hearts, we are the same." since she strongly believes "The heart is the most important thing" between a mother and son.
  • Minimalist Cast: In the original book, Buru-buru and Muku-muku are the only main characters of the story. While humans and animals are seen in the short, they are only background characters and don't interfere with the story that much. The exception is the unnamed policeman who appear in both versions.
  • Mood Whiplash: As Buru-buru and Muku-muku are having a very heartfelt moment and are seen dancing with each other. The child narrator says that "Buru-buru and Muku-muku lived a happy and peaceful life", but the female narrator says "Actually" and tells the child that one day Buru-buru was moved to a different zoo and gets separated with his adopted mother in the process.
  • Old Dog: Due to the different aging rate between a lion and a dog, Muku-muku becomes an old dog by the time Buru-Buru grows up to become an adult lion. She's notably skinnier, slower paced, relaxed, and has wrinkles around her face.
  • Snow Means Death: Seconds after Buru-buru and his mother are gunned down, snow flakes begin falling onto the ground and around their bodies.
  • Single Tear: After Muku-muku gets tired of running behind a truck that's taking away her adopted son. She is seen shedding a single tear from her eye knowing she will never see her son again until years later as she's on the edge of dying.
  • Silence Is Golden: The short is mainly told by two narrators and through songs performed by Japanese music group "100s". The characters are never given any dialogue, with the exception of Muku-muku training her newly adopted son how to behave like a dog.
  • Sliding Scale of Animal Cast: Type 2, Animal Cast With Humans as Living Props: only 12 humans are seen in the entire film, with the exception of 8 unnamed policeman and an unnamed female trapeze performer. The humans characters (with the exception of the policeman) are mainly used as background props and don't interfere with the story.

Muku-muku and Buru-buru, Buru-buru and Muku-muku
More than real families, they are close to each other
Muku-muku and Buru-buru, Buru-buru and Muku-muku
More than real families, they are close to each other
Every day is filled with happiness
Muku-muku loves Buru-buru
Buru-buru loves Muku-muku
——
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