Directed by Yasujiro Ozu, a kabuki troupe returns to a town where the director has a son by an innkeeper, and his mistress becomes jealous and tries to get revenge.
A kabuki theatrical troupe led by Kihachi (Takeshi Sakamoto) arrives on a train at night after having been away for four years. While Kihachi is being shaved in a barbershop, a woman says he was so handsome then that all the women went to see the plays.
A little boy is eating watermelon and is told not to wet his bed again or he will be given a moxa treatment.
A woman is giving Kihachi a moxa treatment for his shoulders, and he complains about the pain. He asks for a kimono and goes to visit patrons, followed by children he discourages from following him. He enters an inn and closes the door. The innkeeper Otsune (Choka Iida) welcomes him with a smile and says it has been a long time and that she has been waiting for him. They sit and drink. She asks about his arthritis in his shoulders. He asks about Shinkichi, and she says he is in school. The young Shinkichi (Hideo Mitsui) comes in with his bicycle, and his mother says that the leader of the troupe is there. She says he will be eligible for the draft soon. Kihachi asks if it was hard raising him all these years and asks if he thinks his father is dead. She told the boy that his father is a civil servant. Kihachi says he would not want a bad father like he is. Shinkichi comes back in and invites Kihachi to go fishing with him.
Kihachi and Shinkichi are fishing with poles while standing in a stream. Shinkichi asks him how long he will stay this time. The boy wants to see the show, but Kihachi says it is not for him; his job as a student is to study. Kihachi drops his wallet, and it floats downstream before Kihachi can stop it.
The actors decide to rehearse again before the boss comes back. Two men play a horse.
An audience sits fanning themselves while actors behind the curtain finish painting the set. The curtain opens, and people applaud the actors. A boy plays a dog and is coached by the actor. Backstage two actresses discuss the rain that is bad for theatrical troupes. The actor apologizes for the mess.
The rain lasts for days and is expected to continue. The actors sits around and are bored. One finds a coin in a kitty bank and goes out with others. The boy asks about his kitty bank. An actor gets cigarettes from an actress and complains about the boss. The actress Otaka (Rieko Yagumo) questions an actor about what he said.
Kihachi and Shinkichi are eating corn while they play chess. Shinkichi wins, and they play again. Otsune is working and sees two actresses who came in. Otsune calls to Kihachi that someone wants him. Otaka asks Kihachi if Otsune is the patron he had to see and says she should thank her too. Kihachi tells the young Otoki (Yoshiko Tsubuchi) to go home, and she leaves. Kihachi tells Otaka not to get upset and keeps Shinkichi from talking to her. She reminds him how she helped against big-shots in another town. Kihachi asks what is wrong with him seeing his son and says he and Otaka are through now; he tells her never to come there again.
Otaka and Otoki talk about the boss who often gets angry. Otaka asks Otoki for a favor and gives her money to seduce Shinkichi.
On a cloudy day Otoki sees students riding their bikes and talks to Shinkichi who stops. She says she will wait for him after the show tonight, and he rides off.
Shinkichi sees it is after ten and tells his mother he is going for a walk. He walks to the tree where Otoki is waiting for him. She talks, and he smiles.
Otaka is in bed when Otoki comes in and smiles.
The next day Kihachi is smoking outside while actors are washing clothes. Kihachi asks where Otoki is.
Otoki and Shinkichi are together and see a train go by. She says they will have to part soon and asks what he will be doing next year. He suggests they tell his mother about them so that she can help them. Otoki says she is not worthy of him. She tried to make a fool of him at first. He takes her hand and indicates that does not matter. She warns him not to get mixed up with a traveling player and walks away, but he follows her.
Otsune tells Kihachi that Shinkichi has been out every night this week. Kihachi wants to see him as much as he can. Otsune tells him to be careful about that woman even though she is too old to be jealous. She is afraid she will tell Shinkichi the truth. He sees Shinkichi come in with Otoki, and Kihachi slaps her, asking where she has been. He asks what the boy is to her and if it is about money. Otoki says Otaka offered her money at first to seduce him, but now she is in love with him. He demands to see Otaka and dismisses Otoki who leaves. He waits, and Otaka comes in. He asks about her plan concerning his son. She asks who cares and says he is cheap like his father. Kihachi hits her several times, knocking her down. She stands and asks if he is sorry. She hopes he will be. She says the world has ups and downs. She asks to make up, but he pushes her away. She says this makes them even. He goes out.
Kihachi asks actors where Otoki is, but she is not there. He goes home and asks Otsune if Shinkichi is in. She says no. Kihachi says he has let Shinkichi ruin his future.
Kihachi and the actors sit as their costumes and props are being sold. The man shows Kihachi how much he will pay for them, and he agrees if that covers the debt. Kihachi asks Kichi and others where they will go, and they tell him of jobs they hope to get doing other work. On their last night one suggests he make up with Otaka. They invite her to join their drinking circle, and she sits with them. They ask her to sing and clap as she does. One actor goes off and cries. The boy gets up and cries too.
Kihachi goes to the inn, and Otsune is glad to see him. He says the troupe has disbanded and sits down. He asks about Shinkichi and says he is like his father with the girls. Kihachi says he is finished this time. She offers him sake, but he declines. She asks if he will still travel and invites him to stay as long as he likes. She says Shinkichi is old enough now to understand. She wants to live together as a family. He smiles and thanks her. She sees Shinkichi, and Kihachi comes to him. Otoki comes in, and Kihachi asks where she has been. He hits her several times, and she asks him to forgive her. Shinkichi asks why he keeps hitting her after she apologizes, and Kihachi hits him. Shinkichi stops him from hitting her again and is ready to fight. His mother intervenes and asks if he knows who Kihachi is. She says he is his father. Shinkichi denies he has a father like him. He says his father would not abandon them for twenty years. Otsune says he did not want his son to be a traveling actor too but be educated for a better life. She says he was poor but paid for his schooling. She asks if he is sorry he hit his father. Shinkichi stalks out. Otoki tells Otsune that she is sorry. Kihachi says his son is educated, and his words make sense. He understands why he objects to what he did. Kihachi gathers some things and says he will go away again. Otsune says his son has accepted him in his heart. Kihachi does not want him to feel awkward around him. He says he will start a new business. If he does well, he will come again. If he becomes a great actor, maybe his son will respect him. Otoki says she will work hard to start a new life. Kihachi asks Otsune if she will take care of Otoki, and she says she will. He apologizes to Otoki for hitting her. Otoki runs upstairs, and Shinkichi sees her and goes downstairs. He asks where his uncle is, and his mother says he means his father; he went on the road again. She says he wants his son to be a great man. He has been hoping for that all these years.
Kihachi buys a ticket at the station and sees Otaka waiting. He sits apart from her and begins to smoke. She comes over and offers him a match and sits down. She asks where he is going, and he says Kamisuwa. He asks about her, and she says no place in particular. He asks her to help him to organize a new troupe. He is not sure he can do it. She buys a ticket for Kamisuwa and pours Kihachi a drink and gives him food. He pours her a drink. The train leaves the town.
This drama portrays struggling actors led by a man who would like his illegitimate son to have a better life than his. His mother has managed to raise him and would like his father to stay with them. The characters have to make difficult choices.