Of course, there’s bound to be some level of horror in your story. Perhaps it’s internal, like the revelation of a dark past. Perhaps it’s external, like zombie go-go dancers. For kids, or at least for my daughter Blondie, one of the scariest things in the world is the hallway to all our bedrooms, particularly at night. Why? Darkness. A dark corridor that she knows very well leads to her bed, my bed, and so on, but the darkness and inability to see where she’s going always freaks her out.
So it goes in Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away. A family gets lost on the way to their new home and stops at the entrance of an old, mysterious building. The only entrance is a dark hallway. This unknown is further emphasized with Joe Hisaishi’s whimsical, beautiful score. Hisaishi tells the story of Spirited Away with music—I cannot help but think of classics such as Peter and the Wolf. The character themes are unique, major acts have their own tense then celebratory melodies, and the track for the film’s end is a lovely reprisal of the major themes.
The particular moment I have shared here comes from the beginning of the film, where the characters first encounter that dark corridor. The orchestra, with emphasis on piano, provides the delicate aural stimulation to imagine a single character entering an unfamiliar world. Now granted, the girl protagonist is with her parents, but as no one’s really listening to each other, she still gives the impression of being alone. And she’s going into a dark, dark hallway she does not know to see what’s on the other side. That takes guts, especially for a kid. I’ve found this music to be a perfect reminder that not every moment of tension has to be filled with deep dread, or a promise of horrifying circumstances. Sometimes the unknown is only a little scary, and that’s fine. When your character’s got to deal with a little bit of scary, use Hisaishi to keep you in check.