Early seventeenth century Japan (the beginning of the Edo period) and the Tokugawa Shogunate now rule the country, bringing a period of relative peace to the previously war torn country. Masterless samurai struggle to stay alive and with no wars to fight or retainers to pay them, they turn to everyday jobs or worse, they drink, gamble and fight amongst themselves.
One such masterlass samurai, Hanshiro Tsugumo (Tatsuya Nakadai), arrives at the house of the Iyi Clan’s requesting that they let him commit seppuku there. An official of the clan, Kageyu Saito (Rentaro Mikuni), is suspicious though believing that this may be a ruse intended to extract money from the clan, a common occurrence at the time. He therefore tells Hanshiro the story of Motome Chijiiwa (Akira Ishihama), a samurai who arrived on their doorstep also requesting a place to commit seppuku but who was actually seeking a hand-out from the clan. The clan humiliated Chijiiwa and made him go through the ritual disembowelment with his bamboo sword, a replacement for the real sword he sold in desperation.