Moving Away (End Credits)

“Perhaps all the dragons in our lives are princesses who are only waiting to see us act, just once, with beauty and courage. Perhaps everything that frightens us is, in its deepest essence, something helpless that wants our love.” 

– Rainer Maria Rilke

Spirited Away and Howl’s Moving Castle have characters who go through transformations in a variety of ways. The most important transformations are made to the characters identity. Miyazaki’s art form allows for intriguing and colourful characters who struggle within their fantasy realms and grow through their journey. Miyazaki’s characters’ identities change through the biggest, most important and powerful emotion in the world, love. Love seems to be the one common thing that changes identity more than any magic, spell, curse or forced change could ever do to someone.

Chihiro and Sophie

“I want to say I lived each day, until I died and know that I mean something in, somebody’s life. The hearts I have touched will be the proof that I leave that I made a difference.”

– I Was Here by Beyonce Knowles

Chihiro and Sophie, although from different cultural backgrounds, have a lot in common. Every life that Chihiro and Sophie touch is changed by their presence, by their bravery, and their love. Chihiro and Sophie are both forced into identities by the “villain” of the film which forces them to change. Each grows stronger and takes risks for the ones they love. With their presences, the world they enter is forever changed by their actions; Chihiro changes the Spirit world, gives Haku back his name, saves No Face, gives Boh a Sophie09new perspective on the world, saves a River god, and even changes Yubaba’s life through Boh; Sophie saves Howl’s humanity, gives Calcifer back his freedom, removes the curse placed upon Turnip, gives Markl a family that loves and cares for him, changes the Witch’s view of love and in a way, brought an end to the war. Chihiro and Sophie through their forced identity changes manage to change so many other lives just being part of them that they made a difference to the world.

Haku and Howl

“I don’t know why she’s with me. I only brought her trouble since the day she met me. If I was her, by now I would have left me. I would have walked away…You’ve fallen in love in the worst way and if you don’t go now then you’ll stay…She’s standing in the heart of darkness saying I know you got a soul even though you’re heartless.”

– Walk Away by The Script

Haku and Howl are both powerful magical characters; Haku is a River god while Howl is a wizard. Haku has lost his identity and doesn’t remember his name while Howl has given his heart up and is losing his humanity. Their identities are lost to them and they have no way of regaining their identity by themselves. Haku and Howl both gave away their identities to Howl03another but didn’t know the repercussions of those actions. Haku became a henchman to Yubaba to do her evil bidding while Howl gave his heart to Calcifer to gain freedom at the loss of his own humanity. It is only through the appearance of Chihiro for Haku and Sophie for Howl that they are able to be saved and regain who they were and might have grown to be. Their love for their girls made them stronger and able to resist to some degree the evil in their lives. I guess the saying, love conquers all is true in this case (or at least in the movies).

Yubaba, Zeniba and the Witch of the Waste

“Everybody’s got a dark side. Do you love me? Can you love mine? Nobody’s a picture perfect but we’re worth it, you know that we’re worth it. Will you love me? Even with my dark side?”

– Dark Side by Kelly Clarkson

Zeniba01Yubaba, Zeniba and the Witch of the Waste are possibly the most complicated characters in either film. Yubaba and the Witch of the Waste fill the role of villains for Chihiro and Sophie for some of the films but there is a change in their identities. Yubaba’s villainy and greed is offset with the flip side of her personality in Zeniba who is caring and grandmotherly (although seen in a similar light as her sister when first introduced); their identities are Witch02wrapped around each other because they are twins. Yubaba is the one who steals Chihiro’s identity just as the Witch steals Sophie’s. Yet Yubaba and the Witch are also the ones that unlock Chihiro’s and Sophie’s potential to become stronger and save the world. Chihiro shows Yubaba has a bit of the same grandmotherly side as Zeniba when she calls her Granny and it softens her disposition somewhat; Sophie gets the Witch to finally relent in holding onto Howl’s heart and to move on so he can be saved. The three characters are unable to hold onto the villain status in the end of the film because their identities have shown to be different (in the case of Zeniba) and have changed to be better people.

The Transforming Supporting Cast (The Stink/River god, Boh, Markl and Turnip-Head)

“’Cause nobody wants to be the last one there, ‘cause everyone wants to feel like someone cares, someone to love with my life in their hands. There’s gotta be somebody for me like that. ‘Cause nobody wants to go it on their own and everyone wants to know they’re not alone.”

– Gotta Be Somebody by Nickelback

These four characters are extremely different but have one thing in common: the heroine’s influence onMarkl and Turnip02 them. Each one’s identity goes through a remarkable transformation (usually in the literal sense the most). The Stink god through Chihiro’s sheer will power and a whole lot of dumb luck manages to give him back his identity as a River god. Boh through his short adventure with Chihiro and being changed into a mouse learns to be an individual outside of his mother’s influence. Markl uses magic to change his appearance which causes him to have two identities but with time, he goes from a mannerless child to a carrying loving child with a family thanks to Sophie’s appearance in the castle. Turnip goes from being a speechless scarecrow with a turnip for a head to being returned to his human form (a prince) by Sophie’s kiss. The actions of the River god help Chihiro to save Haku and No Face while Turnip’s actions save the entire family from dying by falling off a cliff. Boh and Markl who are both young are able to learn from a family unit (one from removal and the other acceptance respectively) that changes them into more caring individuals in the future. Therefore, these four characters identity are changed by the heroines in the story who take time to help them, spend time with them through their own journey to their new identities.

Supernatural Supporting Cast (No Face and Calcifer)

“What I really meant to say is I’m sorry for the way I am…I never really wanted you to see the screwed up side of me that I keep locked inside of me so deep. It always seems to get to me.”

– Cold by Crossfade

Face05No Face and Calcifer are who they are because of what they are. No Face is a spirit who has no identity and is influenced by what he sees but only wants a friend. Calcifer is a fire demon stuck in a contract with Howl which is no good for either of them. For both of these creatures, freedom seems to be what they need the most along with someone who can show them kindness and love them for who they are. No Face’s time in the bathhouse utterly changes him to a greedy, selfish creature that wants Sen to be his friend but gains a role model in Zeniba thanks to Chihiro taking him with her to Swamp Bottom. Calcifer’s few close calls of being put out make him want to help Sophie break his contract with Howl, at first for selfish reasons but soon because he sees how she loves Howl, and because he has Howl’s heart may begin to love her himself. Time takes two monstrous characters with abilities to help and hinder others through a journey of discovery that underneath the monster is a kind soul who just needs a little love to flourish.


So what conclusions can we pull about identity in the East or the West? For one, it doesn’t seem to matter what a person’s cultural background is but their identity can be removed from them, forced to change through the influence or appearance of others in their lives and the choice to change is always present in everyone even if they don’t perhaps realize they have changed in the end. The biggest identity changes happen because one person has the courage to simply love those around them for who they are and this is the thing that changes people the most. Being brave and love those around you, and Miyazaki tells us, we can change who we are, who others are and change the world for the better. I believe Kamaji sums it up best, “You can’t beat the power of love.”

“Be the change that you wish to see in the world.” Mahatma Gandhi


Loving the Beast

“May Calcifer live a thousand years, and may Howl recover his heart.”

– Sophie

Calcifer01Calcifer is a fire demon who has made a contract with Howl. Calcifer is in charge of powering and moving the castle at Howl’s bidding. He’s chained by his contract by Howl; he does as Howl asks and he received Howl’s heart in return. Calcifer is unable to leave the house or move from the fireplace on his own.

Calcifer is not well behaved for anyone but Howl. He eats anything including egg shells, and peeping bugs. He is afraid of water because it means he will go out meaning he and Howl will die. He does ask Sophie to break his spell and contract as they (him and Calcifer02Sophie) are running out of time as Howl is turning into a monster due to him having Howl’s heart. He is obstinate about doing things because he’s “a demon.” But over time, he is able to understand Sophie better and her motives for doing things.

Calcifer eventually returns Howl’s heart with Sophie’s help and he is able to return to his Calcifer03falling star state where he gains what he wanted most, freedom. He misses his friends/family and returns to them, gaining a kiss from Sophie, which makes him happy.

Calcifer’s identity is that of a demon bound by a contract, and with and without Howl’s heart is eventually changed. He has Calcifer04his moments where he is selfish and only cares about himself, but he knows by the end Sophie will take care of him, just as she takes care of Howl. He is willing to do anything for Sophie without
anything in exchange. He is only stronger with the help of something from others and he must devour it to be able to use it to fuel his own abilities. Alone and without fuel for his fire, he is unable to do much of anything for anyone. Calcifer’s identity, therefore, is selfish yet caring, but dependent on others.

Staying At The Castle

“Are we a family?”

– Markl

“Yes, we’re family.”

– Sophie

Markl and Turnip have small roles within throughout Howl’s Moving Castle but their identities go through transformations just as their bodies do the same thing. Albeit the two characters being very different, there is the one thing they have in common, a mutual love for Sophie, which transforms them the most.

Markl and Turnip


“I love you, Sophie. Please stay.”

– Markl

Markl01Markl is a young boy who is an apprentice to Howl. He appears to be in charge of the two shops that Howl owns, dealing with day-to-day business functions and basic spells. He seems to have learned to be serious in his dealing with customers and knows what can andMarkl03 can’t be done around the house like getting Calcifer to cooperate. He is a curt, straight forward, mannerless, messy child. He devours his food, has messy hair that goes everywhere as well has a messy room, and tells Sophie to stop messing around with the door. None-the-less, Sophie’s appearance has a great influence on Markl. He becomes polite, helpful, happy, carefree child.

Markl02As a wizard’s apprentice, Markl has the ability to do magic. He places a cape on and is able to change his appearance to an old man with a large grey beard. He only takes on this identity when going outside of the castle in town or dealing with the public. This identity of Markl’s is gruff, grumpy and a bit cynical. When shopping with Sophie, he says he doesn’t Markl04like potatoes or fish. This gruffness and the old man appearance disappear as soon as Markl’s hood comes off and he returns to a normal young boy.

Markl becomes attached to Sophie and Heen (Suliman’s spy dog) which makes him happier and act more like the child that he is. In the end, he has a family that love him that has made all the difference to his identity.

Markl05Through the family unit, Markl is able to define his identity and express himself in a more childlike manner. Even with his cape on and his old man appearance, he tells Sophie he loves her and doesn’t want her to leave. His persona’s identity is pushed aside for his identity to reveal itself to its fullest extent. Therefore, Markl’s identity is defined and changed by the appearance of Sophie who takes care of him like a son.



“You may be a turnip, but you’re a good turnip.”

– Sophie

Turnip01Turnip is completely defined by his actions as he is unable to speak. He is a scarecrow with a turnip for a head. Sophie and Markl aren’t sure what he is but speculate he might be a demon but Howl who must have heard of Turnip looking after Sophie says, “So you’re Turnip. You’re under quite a spell too. Seems everyone in our little family is complicated.” Turnip is under a spell which has turned him into a scarecrow.

Turnip03Turnip helps around the castle, hopping up and down to move; he does laundry with Sophie, gets her shawl when it flies away, brings her an umbrella when she is out in the rain crying, runs around with Markl, helps find things, picks up the Witch, and looks after Markl when Sophie falls out of the falling apart house. He saves everyone from falling off the cliff Turnip04by using the post that keeps him up as a kind of brake but ends up losing most of it. Sophie kisses him in thanks for saving them and Turnip transforms into a prince.

Turnip is a prince from another kingdom but “a cruel spell turned me into a scarecrow” and as the Witch reveals, “A spell that only your beloved’s kiss could break.” Sophie is the young prince’s beloved but he comes to terms that she is in love with Howl. He leaves to stop the war but will return once again.

Turnip05Turnip’s transformation into a prince at the end is out of a fairy tale. To western audiences, the theme is one we are familiar with. A prince cursed into an ugly creature/shape must be kissed by his true love to break the spell. Yet Turnip could only be returned to a prince by his beloved’s kiss not true love’s kiss. Thus, for Turnip, Sophie is his dearly loved person but knows that “a fickle heart is the only constant in this world”Turnip06 meaning that now that he has returned to his human form and Sophie has chosen Howl, he will move on and find love elsewhere, even though he wishes to return to his new unroyal family.

Turnip and the prince’s identity is one of loyalty and understanding. His transformation at the end, changes his identity from a silenced scarecrow who could only communicate how he felt through actions to an eloquent, handsome prince who knew the inevitability of the world when it comes to unrequited love.

A Long Climb (For The Witch of the Waste)

“He who catches a falling star, oh, heartless man. Your heart shall be mine.”

– Witch of the Waste

Witch01The Witch of the Waste does not have a name but an epitaph for who she is. Her reputation as a witch proceeds who she is as an individual. She is a legend and a myth wrapped up in one but still real. The Witch’s only goal is to have Howl’s heart for herself. So when her blob henchmen chase after Howl and Sophie, she becomes jealous of Sophie. Her jealousy causes her to place a curse on Sophie to turn her old. The dramatic irony for the Witch is that she is in return turned old (which is actually her true age).

Witch02The Witch prizes her beauty, thinks she is superior to others and feels power and status is all that matters along with possessing the heart of Howl. The Witch has a very classic western “white” superior identity. Her desire to possess Howl’s heart is materialistic as she doesn’t seem to want it for the same reason’s Sophie does, love. Still she does admit Witch04that she is still in love but after states, “Men, why ever should we want them? But a young man’s heart is so delicious!…and so adorable too.” The Witch’s true intention with Howl’s heart is simply to possess the heart of a young man even if she had fallen in love with him at one time.

Witch03The Witch’s world starts to fall apart when she is summoned to see the King, believing that Suliman finally has need of her power. She states, “It’s been 50 years now, since they drove me out of here. I’ve been longing for this day ever since.” Still, being forced to climb up the steps of the palace has already started her to age, using Sophie’s cane to help her. Her appearance loses its prime and proper beautiful look to a sweating, hunched, woman. She takes a blow to her pride onto of her beauty when she has to admit to Sophie that she doesn’t know how to break the spell. When the audience finally sees her again, she has been turned into an old feeble woman.

Much like Howl, she had made a deal with a demon “who consumed her, body and soul, long, long ago.” This is why she has been returned to her proper age and stripped of her powers because of the bargain she made. The major difference between Howl and the Witch is that Howl had Sophie to save him where no one was able to save the Witch.

Witch05The Witch as an old woman finally enters into Howl’s home. She needs to be spoon fed by Sophie, and stares at Calcifer calling him a pretty fire continually. Her new state has made it appear as if she’s harmless and unable to do anything for herself. This is not entirely true as we see her realize Suliman has sent a peeping bug to spy on them but doesn’t realize that by giving it to Calcifer to eat that she’s made it easier for them to be found.

Upon learning of Calcifer having Howl’s heart, she grabs it, causing herself to light on fire. Witch06She holds it to herself even as she burns but saved by Sophie. She thinks Sophie is mean for trying to take Howl away from her; she just wanted his heart for herself. Finally, the Witch realizes how much Sophie wants Howl’s heart and why, telling her, “Oh, well, in that case, you’d better take good care of it.”

Witch07The Witch’s identity is changed in the slightest ways by being transformed into a harmless old woman. She is protective of Howl, just as Howl is protective of Sophie but for different reasons. The Witch doesn’t want Suliman to find Howl because she wants his heart and if Suliman found them then it wouldn’t be possible. She has lost her pride, her beauty, her powers and everything she prizes most inthe world. Despite it all, her goal never changes, until Sophie asks for it. She knows the power of love and allows for it to flourish. The Witch finally stops being someone to be feared (as Howl fears her) and someone who’s identity has changed after being forced to change by Suliman and with the influence of Sophie’s love for Howl. In the end, she gains a family, happiness and peace on Howl’s moving castle.Witch08

Finding Howl

“That boy is dangerous. His power is too great for one with no heart.”

– Madam Suliman

Howl01Howl is a young wizard with a reputation. His moving castle is known by everyone and he is known for attracting young women and tearing their hearts out (although the audience never sees him do such a thing). The audience learns quickly that he is good looking and a bit of a lady’s man who’s “only after beauties.” Despite the fact, Howl doesn’t reveal his name to Sophie when they first meet there is no other wizard it could be that took her flying through the air.

It is suggested and seen throughout the film that Howl is a very powerful wizard as Suliman notes he was “a student of such Howl02marvelous gifts.” He has a fire demon controlling the movement of his home, and recognizes powerful sorcery such as when The Witch of the Waste leaves a note for him in Sophie’s pocket. Whenever Howl uses magic, his appearance grows darker, almost more sinister. As we see him Howl03fighting in asiren/harpy-like form, we realize he is slowly losing his humanity whenever he uses powerful, dark magic. The further into the film and into Howl’s world we travel, the more we see it harder for Howl to revert back into a human, and it takes great effort and pain each time. His talk with Calcifer one night tells us that if a witch or wizard takes on an animal or monster form for too long, it is hard to return to
being human as the individual forgets how to be human. It is only thanks to Sophie’s love for Howl10Howl that he is able to combat this problem and return to human form in the end. This pull between man and the beast within is a part of Howl’s identity as a wizard; he knows the risks but to do what needs to be done, he continues to do so anyway. Howl’s beast side may allow him to fly and to protect those he loves later but it pulls his humanity from him as he does not even respond to a kiss but stares blankly ahead. The return of his heart, marks the return of his humanity, thanks to Sophie and her love for him.

Howl’s personality is over the top dramatic, childish, and carefree more often than not. He kind-heartedly tells Sophie “try not to torment my friend” when she nearly let’s Calcifer go out. He fondly looks in on Sophie when she is sleeping. Yet when Sophie mixes up the bottles and ruins the spells in the bathroom, he comes screaming and panicking down the stairs showing her the colour of his hair. He cries about how hopeless it is and that “I’m done for. What’s the point in living if you aren’t beautiful?” Howl is not only being dramatic but also vain. He thinks Howl05being beautiful is the only point to life. In his depression, he calls on the spirits of darkness and his skin secretes a green liquid. Sophie says, “my, he’s dramatic” and that he was acting like a child having a tantrum. It seems the incident is soon forgotten as Howl never returns his now black hair back to blond.

Howl also admits to being a coward. The Witch of the Waste scares him to death and thus why he tries to keep her away. He only approached her originally because she was interesting, she terrified him and he ran away. It is also his cowardliness that causes him to get Sophie to go to Madam Suliman in his place to tell her that he is “an idle, good-for-nothing.” It is Sophie’s speech about who Howl is that allows the audience to see what Sophie thinks of him and how she feels about him; she says, “You call Howl Howl08heartless. Yes, he’s selfish and cowardly and unpredictable, but he’s straight as an arrow. He only wants to be free. Howl won’t turn into an evil monster. He’ll battle the demon on his own. I believe in him.” This simply gets Suliman to see his weakness which is Sophie. Yet it is Sophie that makes him be courageous. She gave him courage to show up to face Suliman and to protect the family when Suliman figures out where they are staying. He tells Sophie, “I’ve finally found someone I want to protect. You.” To Howl, Sophie is a reason to be brave, strong and protective, to be a hero.

Howl09We know Howl gave his heart up to a demon, and it is hinted at several times that Calcifer is the one who has it. He caught a falling star as a young boy, ate it thus giving up his heart and Calcifer was born. This is why he acts like a child and dramatic because he hasn’t been forced to grow up and take responsibility as he has no heart. Despite not having a heart, he is able to see Sophie’s beauty when she can’t see it for herself. He has little sympathy for other people though because he gave up his heart for freedom. He goes by the names of Pendragon and Jenkins but tells Sophie, he uses as many names as he needs to ensure his freedom. Freedom is important to Howl. So he is willing to take on as many names and thus identities as he needs to, to get what he wants. This may be why he so easily decided to take the form of a harpy/siren (half human, half bird) form because his identity is flexible and flight gives him freedom that non-wizards do not have.Howl11

In the end, Howl changes his identity for Sophie, which allows him to receive his heart back. He tells Sophie, “I feel terrible like I’m trapped under a stone” and she simply replies, “Oh, yes, a heart’s a heavy burden.” Howl had spent most of his life without a heart and once again receiving it has to learn how to think about others and care for them. This essentially saves him from becoming the monster he continually transforms into. Howl’s identity changes from selfish to selfless, from cowardly wizard to courageous hero due to Sophie’s influence and with the return of his heart changes his identity for the better because of love.

An Old Curse

“They call it a castle, but once you get inside, it’s a junk heap.”

– Sophie

Howl’s Moving Castle unlike Spirited Away is based off a book by British author Diana Wynne Jones. Immediately, western audiences are able to understand the background contexts and social cues. According to Anita L. Burkam, “Miyazaki aims for a looser interpretation, starting with the plot itself…the movie portrays her as a normal girl turned by a curse into an old woman, reacting to strange events around her, more the object of the plot’s action then its protagonist”[i]. The movie may be called Howl’s Moving Castle but it is Sophie who’s perspective the story is filtered through.


“The good thing about being old is that you’ve so little to lose.”

– Sophie

Sophie01Sophie is an 18 year old hatter who enjoys her own company and working more than hanging out with the girls of the shop. She dresses simply and doesn’t like her appearance believing she isn’t beautiful. Before Sophie knows it, she is being swept into an adventure by a wizard who is very handsome. Her sister Lettie warns her later that if the wizard is Howl that he might have stole her heart which he is known for doing. She dismisses her sister saying that he would never be interested her, he only goes after beauties. It appears to Sophie that her Sophie03adventure is over but it is only beginning. Sophie’s life changes when her youth is stolen from her by the spell that The Witch of the Waste puts on her because the wizard she met and helped escape was Howl. She becomes an old woman with a hunched back, wrinkles, and grey hair. Her identity has changed with her aging. Her clothing choices now match her age, she notes before leaving home to go to the Wastes where wizards are.

Sophie’s journey to the Wastes is slow due to her increased age as “it’s not easy being old.” In need of a good cane, she finds a moving scarecrow that has a turnip for a head (her least favourite vegetable). Thanks to Turnip Head, she gets a cane but doesn’t want him to continue to follow so asks him to find her shelter to sleep in. Thinking she has tricked him believes she has gotten more Sophie04cunning with age.

Sophie is noticing the changes to her perception of the world from being old. She feels the cold more, has more aches and pains, moves at a slower pace and that her mind has become cunning with age. These are all changes to Sophie’s physical and mental identity that she is noticing. She is no longer the 18 year old hatter but an old woman.Sophie05

Her entry into Howl’s house, continues to show the changes that her personality are taking in such as telling the little girl that “she’s the scariest witch” in a joking way and is more forceful with her actions when she bribes Calcifer into doing what he’s told which Howl states is not an easy feat.

The audience also sees another change to Sophie when her emotions trigger, she can appear younger or at least have more energy. She starts cleaning, scaring bugs and mice out of the house as she makes the house look more presentable. Markl states, “A witch rages within” as she energetically cleans the house. When she discovers that Calcifer is actually the cause of the moving castle, she becomes excited and moves around quicker to see the outside.


It becomes apparent that Sophie moves back and forth between her two identities of young and old with the state of mind she is; she appears younger when she’s busy or happy or at peace like when she is asleep.

Sophie07When Howl has a tantrum over his hair colour, she gets scared and upset telling him “I’ve never once been beautiful” and runs outside into the rain where she stands crying looking younger. Admitting to never believing herself beautiful and crying makes her feel better and creates a shift in how she deals with beauty.

Sophie’s meeting with Madam Suliman, at Howl’s request, brings out bravery in Sophie that is becoming more pronounced as the story continues. She is upset that Suliman sets traps for her aged guests, can’t believe that she Sophie08would strip people of their powers and becomes passionate about who Howl is as a person, growing younger as she talks. When Suliman says she’s in love with Howl, she recoils turning old immediately. The audience begins to realize that the changes to Sophie’s identity is because of her feelings for Howl; she finds it easier to brave and wants to do anything she can to protect him.

Sophie’s love for Howl knows no bounds as she doesn’t mind if he’s a monster and is simply worried that he’ll leave her. She will do anything to help him but instead of asking for help, he goes back to trying to stop the war and she Sophie10gets frustrated with the whole place (and its craziness). It is also obvious that being in love has made her appear younger even if she’s still appearing old as she stops using a cane and is able to do tasks easier.

In the end, she knows she has to protect Howl by moving the family away from the bombs falling. She gives up her hair in order to get Calcifer to move the house again and the Witch realizes what Sophie Sophie11hasn’t; that Calcifer has Howl’s heart. Stuck between saving the Witch from burning and killing Calcifer and Howl, she pours water on them. She cries not knowing whether she killed Howl or not.

Learning of Howl and Calcifer’s past helps her understand Howl better and runs to the childhood Sophie12counterpart but the power of the ring is unable to keep her any longer in the past. She calls out to them, “Howl! Calcifer! It’s Sophie. I’ll come back. Wait for me in the future.” Through this, she is able to realize that Howl may have known who she was when he picked her up in town the first time and that he had to wait a long time for her to return to him. She gives back Howl’s his heart and manages to save Calcifer and then breaks Turnip’s curse. Sophie ends up with her happy ending with Howl.


Sophie’s journey causes her to change from an awkward young woman into a beautiful and strong woman. Her constantly changing identity from young and old causes a duality to her personality that helps her grow and flourish. Being old gives her a new perspective of life and opens up her personality which when young was reserved. Through this Sophie takes risks all in the name of love and for her new family. Her new found bravery allows her to save those around her and for the end to come to the foolish war. Thus Sophie’s identity changes due to the forced physical curse she is placed under which allows her to identity to change for the better.


End Notes

[i] Burkham, Anita L. “From Page to Screen: Hayao Miyazaki’s Howl’s Moving Castle” (The Horn Book Magazine, 2005), 554 – 555.

A Monster Called “No Face”

When a character’s name is simply No Face, a lot of conclusions can be drawn without looking deeply into any of his actions. No Face essentially has no identity, he is a blank slate at first that simply wants a friend. Outside influence forces this misunderstood character to change for the worse.


You might not even have noticed him the first time watching the film; he is just a spirit standing on the bridge as Chihiro and Haku cross the bridge to the bathhouse for the first time. He’s ignored by everyone around him. During the day, now Sen sees him on the bridge and politely bows to him as she crosses. This moment must have been odd for him as he’s never been noticed by others Face02before. This causes him to follow Sen and happily comes inside out of the rain. He returns the favour to Sen by getting the tag she needed for the bath tub. Sadly, No Face doesn’t understand things completely and produces more tags for Sen then she needs (despite it coming to her advantage later). He sees this and the reaction to the workers had to the gold produced by the River god and takes it as a lesson. If he can make things for Sen, she’ll be happy and she’ll be his friend.

The bathhouse is not a good environment for No Face as he entices a frog with gold, eats him Face03and soon starts growing larger, demanding more things (now that he has words), continues to entice the workers with gold, and eating copious amounts of food. He has been consumed by greed and worldly wants but he has also learned he will get attention from people if he offers them gold. He now has the attention of people (all but the one he wants). His greed and need for attention soon has all the workers doing anything and everything to get money (their own greed fueling his need for attention). Upon finally finding Sen, he offers her a lot of gold but she refuses. Once again, he doesn’t understand why Sen doesn’t want what he has to offer her despite everyone else’s reactions. First she didn’t need more tags for the bath and now she didn’t want gold. He wanted her to accept his gifts and be his friends. In his upset state, he drops the gold he offers her and eats another frog and slug. The workers go into a panic and call him a “horrible monster.”

Yubaba tells the workers that “your greed attracted quite a guest”, meaning that the workers greed for gold and material wealth
attracted someone who only knows how to consume which only is only fueled by their greed. He becomes out of control and Yubaba can’t control him. Sen arrives and he offers her food and gold but again she doesn’t want it. For the third time, No Face can’t understand why she doesn’t want anything from him despite his willingness to give her what she wants. He only wants her because he’s lonely, he obviously needs a friend. When No Face chases after Sen afterwards, Yubaba tells him, “not on her premises”, and we start to see this scene in a much darker tone than originally.

The images of the women before now in the bathhouse start to take on a different tone. The women in kimonos may not just be workers in the bathhouse but a form of geisha meant to entertain guests. Geisha, despite popular culture, were not prostitutes as the “geisha ideal did not contradict the ethos of the ‘maiden’ since it involved no sexual activity”[i]. Despite this, “before modern times the boundaries between them and the higher-ranking prostitutes were notFace04 always clear” because in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth century, “geisha included both men and women who not only performed on stage but also freely sold sexual favors”[ii]. With this fact in mind, we begin to see the darker undertones expressed with No Face. No Face is in a bathhouse with geisha and is trying to buy Sen. Thus Yubaba’s words, “not on her premises” starts to suggests she runs a business where her girls cannot be bought for sexual favours and that she is not going to allow No Face to touch Sen in an inappropriate manner. This theory is reinforced by Lin’s words to No Face when he follows Sen outside the bathhouse: “No Face, if you so much as touch that girl, you’ll pay for it!”. Lin seems to know that No Face’s intentions earlier were not as innocent as Sen seems to think they are. He may really be a monster after all but I just think he’s a little misunderstood.

No Face’s identity though is made clear by Sen. She says to him, “Where did you come from?” and tells him “You should go back to where you came from. You can’t help me with what I want.” She asks him more questions when he is unable to respond. “Where’s your home? Don’t you have a mom and dad?” and finally “Can’t you go home?”. He responds by telling her he’s lonely but he hasn’t answered the question. No Face has no identity. He has no collective group to say he belongs to. As mentioned before, in early Japan, a person’s identity was based on the family unit and for No Face, with no home he has no family and thus no status or identity. He is an outcast.

Face05Sen’s questions cause him to get confused as to who he is. His ingestion of three people has caused him to consume three different identities which do not seem to help him any. The three identities cause him to consume everything. The only thing that seems to be part of his identity is his connection to Sen. He just wants her while the other identities he has absorbed want to be pampered and feed, all in the name of greed. He has become corrupted by the bathhouse environment which is because his identity was a blank slate; it was easily influenced and shown incorrect behaviour and motives for getting what he wanted: a friend.

Face06When he is finally back to his “self” after purging himself of everything and anything bad, he seems to lose the “monster” who only knew how to consume. He continues to follow Chihiro as much like Boh, he isn’t entirely sure what to do. Sen seems to be the only one who can help him perhaps gain some form of an identity that he can call his own. Her trip to Zeniba is what finally gain No Face what he needs: a home, a friend, a family, and an identity. Zeniba is able to teach No Face how to do things that are productive for others instead of greedy consumption. In the end, he seems happy to have found a home.


Overall, No Face is a complex character due to his none identity and his ability to absorb other people’s identities. His none identity allows others to forcibly influence his decisions, his actions and create a monster where there was none before. No Face simply wanted to be part of a collective identity or to find a way to gain his own identity which thanks to Sen, he gains the beginnings of a better environment to grow into a proper identity.

End Notes

[i] Johnston, William. Geisha, harlot, strangler, star: a woman, sex and morality in modern Japan (New York: Columbia University Press, 2005), 38.

[ii] Johnston, Geisha, 38.

A Strange Visit

Earlier on I mentioned the transforming supporting cast. These characters although sometimes small parts in comparison to the heroine, hero and villain still play a role either in one of those three archetypes lives or affect the story in some way. Despite their roles being small in comparison to others, their identities go through changes physically but sometimes also mentally within a short amount of time.

The Stink God/Spirit

“Well done.”

– River God

 Stink GodNo one likes this guy as he comes squelching along as they close up shop so as to not deal with him and to escape the overwhelming disgusting smell that ripples off him. The town’s people quickly close up their shops, turning off lights in his wake. The bathhouse workers try to tell him they are closed but he just simply keeps coming. Yubaba still being greedy and also believing that this god isn’t a stink god at all, orders Sen to deal with him. Every worker is running to avoid the purple ooze pouring out of him and the brown sludge that seems to pervade his being. He even ruins Sen and Lin’s food just by walking by. He never speaks but simply hands money over to Sen and climbs into the bathtub, only opening his mouth (to Sen’s disgust) to indicate he wants more water. His stench makes Sen fall into the water.

Up to this point, this guy is unliked, unwanted and scares everyone away from him. He is simply an oozing, disgusting, brown sludge Stink god that must be served as a customer should. His true identity is hidden behind this outside layer of gunk. He is a guy/spirit who in his current form is unpleasant to be around. This is one of those times that the clichéd saying of “you can’t judge a book by its cover” comes in handy. His outward appearance and smell make people avoid him and thus he becomes “othered” by society, an outcast, garbage that doesn’t deserve support or help. As an audience, we are making assumptions about who this character is simply based on how he looks.Thorn

Yet when Sen finds the “thorn” in his side and Yubaba orders everyone to help pull, everything begins to change for the god. The things that come out of him start with a bicycle but include a lot of odds and ends of garbage. The spirit that emerges from the now clean water is a wrinkled mask-like face with bushy white eyebrows and missing teeth. He congratulates Sen with “well done” and emerges from the water as a white dragon – a famous River god.

The Stink god’s transformation into a dragon/River god shows how what is on the outside of someone’s physical appearance may not be who they truly are on the inside. This god’s true identity was revealed by someone who was willing to help, willing to reach out and touch him to find that there was something wrong. Due to a stranger’s help, he was able to return to his River Godformer self and get back up on his feet. If we would all just take a moment of our time in this busy world to get to know someone, or ask them their story, or see what’s wrong then the “othered”, “ugly” “outcast” that society has created can heal, grow strong once again and become a friend.

We also come face to face with one of Miyazaki’s favourite recurring issues about society: pollution to our environment. This River god was once clean, pure and beautiful and over time, humans transformed him into “a slimy, fetid monster by its unintentional absorption of heaps of junk metal of precisely the kind one would expect to find at the bottom of many of today’s streams”[i]. Thus we could state that humans’ impact on our environment is suggestive of how an identity can be changed for the worse by others. Someone who was once strong and beautiful, over time can be transformed into an outcast, a monster or a traumatized survivor by society, by family, and friends, or circumstances.

Boh (Baby)

“Baby had such a good time.”

– Boh

Boh01Boh is actually the Japanese word for baby. The character Boh is essentially a giant baby. Boh02He is confined to his nursery by his mother Yubaba, and believes that going outside will cause him to get sick. He is spoiled and gets everything he wants. He is very strong which we see when he grabs Sen’s arm and she cries out that he is hurting her. He threatens her that if she leaves him and doesn’t play with him, that “if I cry, Baba will come and kill you.” By utilizing his mother as a threat, he has learned in the past that he can get his own way. Yet the sight of blood scares him and he screams. Boh soon is able to follow Sen outside of his nursery, demanding once again that she plays with him, and crying loud sobbing tears. This giant baby should probably be more like a toddler but knows like any baby if they cry, they get what they want but Sen has no time for Boh’s antics. It doesn’t help that his own situation is turned upside down when he is turned into a fat mouse by Zeniba and the three green heads take his visage to make things more complicated. NotBoh04 knowing what to do, he follows after Chihiro and even uses her as a kind of teacher when he copies her movements in the boiler room when surrounded by the soot creatures. Children learn best by copying others, what they say and what they do, teach them how to act and how to behave.

Boh’s road trip or journey starts by leaving the nursery with Sen which teaches him new things along the way. Timothy Iles states, “The road trip is indeed an accurate metaphor for the journey of life that brings us from a point of departure to a point of destination and (hopefully) teaches us something along the way”[ii]. The departure from the safety of the nursery and Boh’s transformation into a mouse rockets his journey off. Boh’s behaviour starts toBoh05 change as he begins to realize that maybe his mother was wrong about keeping him locked away. His identity suddenly has a new influence to take into consideration: Sen. The final straw that places him on taking on Sen as a role model is when his own mother doesn’t recognize him. At first he is devastated but soon gets mad. This causes him to protect Sen from No Face when he seemingly tries to strangle her and to follow her to Swamp Bottom. Along the way, he is curious and excited about seeing all the new things around him.

Over his short journey or road trip with Sen, his identity changes. He tries not to be spoiled by walking on his own instead of riding on Sen’s shoulder, and by running on the spinning wheel to make thread for Sen. He has also become gentler from being transformed into a mouse as he kisses Zeniba goodbye on the nose before they head home unlike his earlier treatment of Sen. His transformation has forced him to look at the world differently and start to evaluate what he has learned in the past. This evaluation of his identity allows him to shed the influence of his mother and become a better person.

When he returns to his baby form, he’s not as impressed with his mother as he was before. He tells his mother, “Baba, what a miser. Just can it. Baby had such a good time.” He has grown to realize the type of person she is and that by leaving his sanctuary she placed him in, he has learned she was wrong that the world won’t make him sick and that the world is a wonderful place. The only thing that still remains is his knowledge of how to manipulate his mother into giving him almost anything he wants. He says, “if you make Sen cry, I won’t like you anymore, Baba.” Boh has made his first friend in Sen and thus feels protective towards her for all that she has shown and taught him. In childlike fashion, he wants Sen to “come and see us” so that perhaps he can see more and be taught more by her.

Boh06Although, Boh’s identity changes are based on his transformation and the circumstances it places him in. The changes that occur after his mother not recognizing him are all done by choice. He realizes that the identity he has known so far isn’t quite the right fit. He realizes that his identity lies outside of what his mother wants it to be and so he chooses to change. Boh’s character suggests that children start in an identity that is influenced by those surrounding them but with the opportunity to leave the family unit, they may become an individual. Boh embodies the struggle many Japanese individuals have with trying to balance the western identity of the self with the needs of the family, and his “nation”. In the end, Boh’s identity seems to have turned out for the better.


The Stink god and Boh are unique in their transformations. The Stink god is “othered” by society while Boh is sheltered from society. It is only with the help of Sen that the two characters finally able to transform into their new identities. Both characters suggest that sometimes outside help can allow for healing or growth in one’s identity which allows for a choice in change rather than a forced change.

End Notes

[i] Cavallaro, Dani. The Anime Art of Hayao Miyazaki (London: McFarland & Company, 2006), 141.

[ii] Iles, Timothy. The Crisis of Identity in Contemporary Japanese Film: Personal, Cultural and National (Boston: Bill’s Japanese Studies Library, 2008), 135.

Meeting Yubaba and A Visit With Zeniba

“My sister and I are two halves of a whole, but we really don’t get along. You’ve seen what bad taste she has. Sorceress twins are just a recipe for trouble.”

– Zeniba

Twins are often a unique situation within any form of literature or media. Twins can be identical in appearance such as the case of Yubaba and Zeniba, or so identical as to be one entity at the same time and have similar personalities. With Yubaba and Zeniba, they are two sides to the same coin. You cannot have evil without some good, nor can you have greed without generosity. Yubaba and Zeniba are essentially yin and yang; you can’t have one without the other.


“You still can’t see that you’ve lost something precious?”

– Haku

Yubaba01Yubaba (translated as bathhouse witch) is the sorceress who rules this world, according to Haku. How far her reach in this world is, we don’t really know, even if we do see her coming and going from the bathhouse in the shape of a large bird with a human head. Her appearance and office tell a lot about the type of who she is: she’s got large jeweled rings on every finger, red nail polish, her hair in a perfect bun on top of her head, heavy make-up, with her head appearing too big for her body, while her desk is filled with book, gold and satchels filled with gold. This is a woman who cares for profit and little else besides her baby. Her greed, although not as prevalent as her workers, is obvious when she claims any gold for herself. She also sees little profit in Chihiro’s appearance; she’s weak so how could she possibly work hard enough to gain her any profit. She does have to follow the rules and adhere to the oath she took to give anyone a job who asks for one. Even though, she gives Chihiro a job, she threatens her that if she isn’t useful then she’ll turn her into an animal or coal. She uses her position and abilities to manipulate others into following her rules; when she doesn’t get her way, she becomes easily angered.

Yubaba’s magic can be used for fixing messes, attacking customers, stopping people from talking but the most notable thing about Yubaba02her magic is her ability to take a person’s name. A person’s name is the often linked to a person’s identity. Yubaba forcibly takes a person’s identity from them when they sign a contract with her. Upon taking someone’s name, they begin to forget who they are, or at least who they were before they came to the bathhouse. We see two direct results of this in Chihiro and Haku. This ruling others by stealing their identity is not an uncommon theme in our own world; we have seen it during the Holocaust/Shoah in the Second World War and in residential schools in Canada. Removing someone’s identity means they are inferior, and allows for a certain amount of control through fear. Yubaba uses fear to control her workers and her apprentice into doing what she wants all for the sake of profit.

Yet, Yubaba’s identity does have a good side. Her entire body language and voice changes whenever she’s dealing with Boh. She uses that sweet high babyish voice that everyone seems to get whenever talking to a baby. She will do anything for her boy including attack Haku in attempt to find out what has happened to her boy. Of course, she was unable to tell who he is when he sees him as a mouse saying, “What’s that filthy rat?” Yet, she protects Sen from No Face momentarily when he is chasing Yubaba04after her stating “not on her premises” as if refusing to allow him to harm her is important. She also abides by the rules of the world even if it doesn’t always make her happy. We also don’t get to see the full story of how being called Granny by Chihiro might have an impact on her or change her in anyway. She simply questions it but doesn’t stop Chihiro from calling her Granny.

Overall, Yubaba’s love of profits and her use of position, power and abilities to threaten and Yubaba05control others (and their identity) shows an identity that appears only to be of someone who knows the cost of everything. Yubaba’s actions show how fragile her identity is. As soon as she can no longer threaten others because they have control of the situation, she no longer has power. This is seen when Haku knows where Boh is and will retrieve him for her in return for a favour. Her position, her abilities can no longer help her hold control or sway over Haku and she must do as he asks so she can have her son back. Without her ability to control others, Yubaba loses her most powerful tool and the one aspect of her identity that seems the most prominent.


“Oh, dear, can’t you even tell me from your own mother?”

– Zeniba

Zeniba02Upon first meeting, Zeniba, we believe we have the same type of character as Yubaba, using her power to control others but this is not entirely true. Zeniba uses her powers to punish Haku for stealing her golden seal and to make her twin sister upset over losing her Boh temporarily. She knows her sister is greedy and feels that perhaps she deserves to be tricked. Still, we soon begin to see Zeniba as a happy, sweet, kind, polite old woman; she could be someone’s grandmother. She serves tea and sweets to her guests, teaches Boh and No Face how to spin yarn and knit, and gives what little advice she can to Chihiro saying, “you’ve got
to take care of your parents and that dragon boyfriend of yours, on your own.” Zeniba may have the power to help Chihiro but does Zeniba03not use it unnecessarily like her sister. She even gives Chihiro a hair band that will protect her and doesn’t blame Haku for stealing from her.
Zeniba’s identity is shown to be in such great contrast to her sister’s that it’s almost surprising that they are identical twins. She lives in such simple and sparse conditions compared to her sister’s extravagant bathhouse. She’s does not threaten or control anyone, and only uses herpowers to get back at her sister or to provide protection. She is the archetypical grandmotherly figure while Yubaba is the “old witch”.

 Yubaba and Zeniba

Zeniba01Yubaba and Zeniba look the same but act very differently. Although, Chihiro begins to see them both as Granny, Yubaba still uses her powers for profit while Zeniba uses her powers more sparingly. Without Zeniba, we could never see the potential that Yubaba could have; she may not always be the bad, old witch but instead with time and the right environment she could be the kind grandmother Zeniba is. Yet, Yubaba and Zeniba are two sides to the same coin, we are unable to have the kind grandmother if we didn’t have the bad, old witch. Yubaba’s greed has to be balanced out by Zeniba’s kindness. Zeniba says that they are “two halves of a whole” and thus it suggesting that together they are able to be balance each other out, perhaps rub off on the other. It could also suggest that because they “really don’t get along” that Yubaba has always been greedy and to counteract her Zeniba has always been her opposite.

Yubaba and Zeniba’s identities cannot be separated from one another, just like yin and yang. Yin and yang are part of the Chinese philosophy Taoism. In this philosophy, yin represents “the feminine or negative principle (characterized by dark, wetness, cold, passivity, disintegration, etc.) of the opposing cosmic forces into which creative energy divides and whose fusion in physical matters brings the phenomenal world into being”[i], while yang represents “the masculine or positive principle (characterized by light, warmth, dryness, activity, etc.)”[ii]. Together the yin-yang as it is known, is the “combination or fusion of the two cosmic forces; a circle divided by an S-shaped line into a dark and a light segment, representing respectively yin and yang, each containing a ‘seed’ of the other”[iii]. Essentially, the yin-yang symbolizes two polar opposites who are constantly in motion (represented by the S-shaped line) and contain within them their opposite. You cannot have the positive without the negative, the good without the bad, warmth without cold but within good there is evil and within evil there is good. This sums up Yubaba and Zeniba, there is a small seed of good in Yubaba and a small seed of evil in Zeniba but they are constantly together, unable to be separated thus creating two opposing identities.

End Notes

[i] “yin, n.1”. OED Online. March 2014. Oxford University Press. (accessed April 11, 2014).

[ii] “yang, n.”. OED Online. March 2014. Oxford University Press. (accessed April 11, 2014).

[iii] “yin, no.1”. OED Online.

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


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.


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.

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