What Happened to Haku in Spirited Away?

by Hazel

Hayao Miyazaki’s “Spirited Away” is a masterpiece of animation that has captivated audiences around the world with its enchanting story, rich symbolism, and deeply layered characters. Among these characters, Haku, also known as the spirit of the Kohaku River, stands out for his mysterious background and pivotal role in the protagonist Chihiro’s journey. This article delves into the character of Haku, exploring his origins, his relationship with Chihiro, and the transformative journey he undergoes throughout the film.

Haku’s Origins and True Identity

In “Spirited Away,” Haku is initially introduced as a mysterious and somewhat enigmatic figure. He appears to be a young boy with magical abilities, serving Yubaba, the witch who runs the bathhouse in the spirit world. However, as the story progresses, it becomes clear that Haku is much more than he seems.


Haku’s true identity is eventually revealed to be that of a river spirit—the spirit of the Kohaku River. This revelation comes during a crucial moment in the film when Chihiro recalls a childhood memory of falling into the Kohaku River and being saved by the river spirit. This memory triggers Haku’s realization of his true name and identity, which he had forgotten due to Yubaba’s enchantment. The name “Haku” is a shortened version of his full name, “Nigihayami Kohakunushi.”


Haku’s Bond with Chihiro

The relationship between Haku and Chihiro is central to the narrative of “Spirited Away.” From their first encounter, Haku demonstrates a deep sense of care and protectiveness towards Chihiro. He helps her navigate the perilous spirit world and provides guidance and support as she seeks to rescue her parents and find a way back to the human world.


Haku’s connection to Chihiro is rooted in their shared past. As revealed later in the film, Haku saved Chihiro from drowning when she was a child. This act of kindness created a bond between them, which Chihiro unknowingly carried into the spirit world. Their relationship is characterized by mutual trust and a deep emotional connection that transcends their immediate circumstances.


Haku’s Role in the Bathhouse

Haku’s position within Yubaba’s bathhouse is complex. On one hand, he serves as Yubaba’s apprentice and is bound to her by a magical contract that includes the loss of his true name. This contract gives Yubaba control over him and suppresses his true identity and powers. On the other hand, Haku secretly works against Yubaba’s oppressive rule, aiding Chihiro and others who seek freedom from her control.

Haku’s dual role highlights his inner conflict and the struggle between his sense of duty and his desire for freedom. He performs tasks for Yubaba, sometimes engaging in morally ambiguous actions, but his loyalty ultimately lies with Chihiro and his quest to regain his true identity.

The Transformation and Redemption of Haku

Haku’s journey in “Spirited Away” is one of transformation and redemption. Initially, he appears to be a powerful but somewhat aloof character, bound by his contract with Yubaba. However, as he helps Chihiro and confronts his own past, he undergoes significant personal growth.

The pivotal moment of Haku’s transformation occurs when Chihiro remembers his true name, “Nigihayami Kohakunushi.” This act of remembrance breaks Yubaba’s spell, restoring Haku’s identity and freeing him from her control. This moment is symbolic of the power of memory and the importance of knowing one’s true self.

Freed from Yubaba’s influence, Haku is able to fully embrace his role as the Kohaku River spirit. He is no longer constrained by the bathhouse or his magical contract, and he can now pursue his own path. This transformation also signifies his redemption, as he moves from a position of servitude and moral ambiguity to one of self-awareness and agency.

Symbolism and Themes in Haku’s Story

Haku’s character arc in “Spirited Away” is rich with symbolism and explores several key themes that resonate throughout the film.

1. The Power of Names

One of the central themes in “Spirited Away” is the power of names and the importance of identity. Yubaba’s practice of taking away the names of her workers symbolizes the loss of self and autonomy. Haku’s journey to reclaim his true name represents the struggle to regain one’s identity and the empowerment that comes with self-knowledge.

2. Memory and Connection

Haku’s bond with Chihiro is a testament to the enduring power of memory and human connection. Chihiro’s ability to remember her past and her encounter with the Kohaku River ultimately saves Haku and herself. This theme underscores the idea that our past experiences and connections shape who we are and can guide us in times of need.

3. Transformation and Liberation

Haku’s transformation from Yubaba’s apprentice to the free spirit of the Kohaku River mirrors Chihiro’s own journey from a frightened girl to a confident and self-reliant individual. Both characters undergo significant personal growth and find liberation through their struggles. This theme highlights the potential for change and the resilience of the human spirit.

Haku’s Role in Chihiro’s Journey

Haku’s presence in “Spirited Away” is integral to Chihiro’s development and journey. He serves as her guide and protector, helping her navigate the challenges of the spirit world. His knowledge of the spirit world and his ability to communicate with both spirits and humans provide Chihiro with the support she needs to survive and succeed.

Moreover, Haku’s own journey parallels Chihiro’s, reinforcing the film’s themes of self-discovery and personal growth. Just as Chihiro learns to rely on her inner strength and resourcefulness, Haku learns to reclaim his true identity and break free from Yubaba’s control.


In conclusion, Haku’s character in “Spirited Away” is a complex and multifaceted one, whose journey is deeply intertwined with that of the protagonist, Chihiro. As the spirit of the Kohaku River, Haku represents themes of memory, identity, transformation, and redemption. His actions and motivations, rooted in his desire to protect Chihiro and regain his true self, drive much of the film’s emotional and narrative arc.

Haku’s journey from Yubaba’s apprentice to the liberated river spirit serves as a powerful narrative of self-discovery and the enduring power of memory and human connection. Through Haku’s story, “Spirited Away” explores profound themes that resonate with audiences, making it a timeless and beloved work of art.


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