Haku Finds His Way

“They say Yubaba makes him do bad stuff.”

– Lin

Haku01Haku is a complex character. He is the apprentice to Yubaba, learning magic from her because of this we find out that Yubaba has stole his identity just like Chihiro. Haku is just the name he was given by Yubaba. He is her henchman and must do as he is told. This doesn’t mean he is one dimensional in his identity.

Haku03Haku is kind, sweet and gentle with Chihiro. He warns her to get across the river and she is unable to, he comes and finds her. He isn’t surprised at her transparent appearance or when she puts her arms through his body. He works against Yubaba and gets Chihiro into the bathhouse and soon he reveals that he has known him since she was little but she doesn’t recognize him. When Chihiro meets him again, Haku is cold, serious, stoic, and short. He Haku04
doesn’t treat Chihiro very well as he is now inside the bathhouse in which he has an identity to maintain. He is known as the strict, cold henchman of Yubaba and is not known for his compassion that he shows only to Chihiro. He commands respect and the attention of the workers, giving orders and explaining things calmly ignoring their protests. Later, when Haku shows Sen/Chihiro her prents and brings her food to gain her strength, he is once again kind and compassionate. The constantly changing back and forth between the two sides of Haku’s identity causes confusion for Chihiro who questions Lin if there are two Hakus’. Haku has a different identity with Chihiro then
when he is with everyone else. Haku is fond of Chihiro due to their shared past that he doesn’t remember until the end of the film.

Haku05Much of Haku’s history is revealed through others as he seemingly does not have a voice of his own except when with Chihiro. Kamaji reveals that Haku just turned up one day like Chihiro and wanted to learn magic and become a sorcerer’s apprentice. Haku said to Kamaji he had nowhere left to go and that as time went by he turned increasingly pale and his eyes took on a sharp gleam. Yubaba’s charm that ensured he followed orders and the removal of his name turned Haku into the person who is seen within the bathhouse.

It is through Chihiro’s influence, actions and love that Haku is not only able to stop following orders and rebel against Yubaba. Due to his knowledge of how the Spirit world works and where Boh is, he is able to bargain with her to allow Chihiro and her parents return to their world. Yubaba suggests that what would happen if she decided to Haku13tear him to pieces after she sends Chihiro and her parents back. Haku is never seen responding but from his unemotional responses during Yubaba’s outrage, it is possible to assume that, that was his response. With Chihiro’s help, Haku gets back his true name: Nigihayami Kohaku Nushi (translated as the “god of the swift amber river”).

Upon learning his true name, he becomes happy and content. From this, Haku remembers that he met her when she fell into his river, dropped her shoe and carried her to shallow water. Haku14Chihiro states that her mother told her the river was drained and buildings were placed their in its stead. Now, it is understood why Haku had nowhere left to go. He was a River god without a river and had no home to return to. Thus it made it easy for Yubaba to take advantage of his confused state to control him. With his identity as a River god returned to him, he plans to quit his apprenticeship and return to where he came from. He promises Chihiro he will see her again and that “I’m fine, now that I have my name back.” As long as he knows who he truly is fine because he can no longer be controlled or have his identity removed from him again.

Dragon Haku

Haku11

Just as Haku’s personality has a duality, his physical appearance has a duality. He can appear in human form as well as dragon form. His dragon form can be very aggressive but also appears to be able to express his emotions more clearly. After being Haku09attacked by Zeniba’s paper dolls, Haku covered in blood can’t seem to respond to Chihiro’s question. He uses quite a bit of his energy destroying Zeniba’s paper doll that follows Chihiro and creates a growls at Chihiro in the boiler room before collapsing. His movements are always swirling and moving like the river he once was (much like the River god, Chihiro encounters in the bathhouse). After Chihiro heals Haku with the herbal cake that the River god gave her, he comes for her at Chihiro17Zeniba’s and when Chihiro hugs him, he smiles and almost purrs. He shows respect by bowing his head to Zeniba. His dragon form appears to show more of who he is and more emotions then he can in his human form.

Haku12Once he learns his name is Kohaku, he sheds his dragon form and can fly outside of his dragon form. His dragon form shatters around him as if it was not part of his true identity.

As mentioned in Japanese identity, the religion of Shinto in Japan believes that kami or spirits live in nature. Dragons in the East have a very different personality than dragons in the West. Dragons in the east can fly “but with the use of magic, not wings”[i]. Hamilton states,Haku10

“Instead of being angry and jealous, these dragons are energetic and intelligent. They symbolize power and heroism. Dragons of the East can be friendly and wise. They are not hated beasts. Instead, people love and worship them, especially since dragons control the rains and the seas…Most Asian dragons live in the water. Almost every lake, river, or pond has a dragon spirit that dwells under the surface…Wise, heavenly, able to ward off evil spirits, and protectors of the innocent, Asian dragons are a symbol of Mother Nature and bringers of life and good fortune”[ii].

This view of dragons gives another identity to Haku. He is a River god which is common among dragons and is kind (only to Chihiro who knew him before). Zeniba states, “All dragons are kind, kind and stupid.” Lastly, dragons are protectors of the innocent and Chihiro as a ten year old girl is seen as being protected by Haku, who manages to have her not disappear, turned into a piglet, and undermines Yubaba in order to protect her. He even reminds her, “don’t ever look back, not until you’re out of the tunnel.” He is once again protecting her from becoming stuck in the Spirit world. It is a common motif in myths that looking back before getting to the surface upon leaving the underworld causes bad things to happen.

 Conclusion

Haku’s identity is stuck in between two dualities: that of Haku, a cold, unemotional henchman to Yubaba and Kohaku, a kind River god who cares deeply for Chihiro. He is stuck between human and beast with his dragon form. This duality shows how individuals can occupy multiple identities at once but in different situations. Haku’s identity changes based on the forced changes he has gone through due to Yubaba and the environment or people he is with. Therefore, Haku’s identity is removed from him when he loses his name which gives him a new identity, and once returned, his former identity allows him to be better because he has his name back.

End Notes

[i] Hamilton, John. Dragons (Minnesota: Abdo Publications, 2005), 26.

[ii] Hamilton, Dragons, 26 – 27.

1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Anime Advisor
    May 02, 2021 @ 04:44:27

    Interesting!

    Reply

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