Threatened from the East and West, Japan and the Tokugawa Shogunate are dangerously unstable. Lord Li Naosuke, the 'Red Devil', has raised up a puppet figure to become the Shogun lemoshil. The year is 1860. Among his opposition is the Mito Clan. Undefeated, they are planning his assassination. Amongst their numbers is one Niiro Tsurichiyo (Toshiro Mifune). The illegitimate son of a powerful nobleman, Niiro has been brought up in a merchants household, harbouring ambitions to become a samurai. A swordsman of outstanding ability, a social outcast, earning his living through brawling and blackmail. Now the Mito Clan suspect him of being a spy. Mifune holds the screen with a commanding performanceof an unprincipled man who moves to the brink of personal tradgedy in an action that threatens to destroy a dynasty.