This well-regarded Japanese drama follows an aging samurai as he attempts to regain his family's honor. In 17th century Japan, a shift in the country's political structure has thrown the feudal Shogun system into disuse.
Impoverished samurai wander the countryside, asking wealthy estate owners if they can commit hara-kiri, a grisly form of suicide, on their property. The usual and honorable response is an offer of some work for food or shelter.
Into the house of a lord comes Hanshiro Tsugumo (Tatsuya Nakadai), an elderly warrior who asks chief retainer Kageyu Saito (Rentaro Mikuni) that the manor's three hired swordsmen serve as his seconds in the ritual. When the appointed hour arrives, however, the swordsmen do not appear, dishonoring the man.
Hanshiro reveals himself to be the father-in-law of Motome Chijiiwa (Yoshio Inaba), a young samurai who had earlier approached Saito and been cruelly forced to go through with the fatal act, disemboweling himself with a dull bamboo blade, as his own had been sold to feed his family.