In 1903, Mary MacKenzie (Samantha Bond) joins her aloof diplomat fiancé in Manchuria. She marries him and finds herself in a war zone. Disenchanted with her husband, she finds herself drawn to a Japanese aristocrat, Count Kentaro (Daisuke Ryu). She scandalously becomes pregnant with his child and chooses to travel with her lover to Japan. Little does she know that Count Kentaro is already married, making Mary no more than a 'concubine'. Even worse, she is mortified to find she will not be allowed to keep her child. So begins Mary's forty-year saga, during which she strives to carve out a place for herself in Japanese society. Throughout the ordeal, she faces a constant cultural cold shoulder, both as a woman and as a Westerner.