Haku first appears as a boy of about sixteen, but he is actually a lost river spirit that also can take the form of a white dragon. In his guise as a white dragon his appearance suggests a river: flowing and graceful. As Haku, however, he is not always so composed, and he exhibits both bravery and real sadness. The river he once represented, the Kohaku River, was drained and paved over to build an apartment complex, and Haku is truly a lost soul. Though he has made a home of sorts at the bathhouse, he knows he once had another home, and the loss of it haunts him. Haku’s treatment of Chihiro is sometimes kind and sometimes gruff, and Chihiro later learns that Yubaba controls him through a slug she planted inside him. Haku may seem powerful at times, but he is also weak—he cannot remember his name, which means he can never leave the spirit world, and he is under Yubaba’s control.
Haku’s initial kindness toward Chihiro serves him well. Sen pauses in her quest to rescue her parents to save Haku when he is hurt, as Haku once saved her from drowning in the Kohaku River. He and Sen develop a loyal and deep friendship, and love each other like brother and sister. Since Haku cannot remember who he really is, he must rely on Sen to remember, and his kindness makes her determined to do so. Sen eventually does find Haku’s true identity, which gives Haku the power to free himself from the spirit world and Yubaba’s control. Although we never learn Haku’s ultimate fate, by the end of the movie he has at the very least found a measure of freedom and peace.