In May 1630, masterless samurai Tsugumo (Nakadai) appears at the gates of the Iyi clan's mansion, asking for an interview with elder Saito (Mikuni). Revealing that he was once a retainer of the Lord of Geishu, the enigmatic ronin requests that he be allowed to commit harakiri in the courtyard. Suspicious of his motives, Saito still agrees. However, soon enough he learns that Tsugumo has a lot more on his mind than honorably ending his life.
Kobayashi's slow-simmering samurai drama unravels at the beginning of the shogunate era, when either economic hardship or military defeat led many clans to turn out their samurai and abandon them to fend for themselves. It's in this context that the story-within-a-story of "Harakiri" evolves, a suspenseful and tragic tale that begins to ratchet up once Tsugumo requests particular Iyi swordsmen to assist in his act of seppuku — all of whom are absent. Kobayashi's meticulous framing and subtly slanted shots add much to our appreciation of this woebegone warrior's personal quest, which finally erupts in a gutsy, cathartic clash.