Based on stories by Akinari Ueda and directed Kenji Mizoguchi, two potters during a civil war are tempted by the money made from their wares and by ghosts.
During civil war in the 16th century many soldiers behave as bandits and oppress the people. Genjuro (Masayuki Mori) and Tobei (Eitaro Ozawa) are skilled potters and are surprised how much money they get for their pots during the war. Genjuro buys fine clothes for his wife Miyagi (Kinuyo Tanaka) and their son Genichi. She is grateful for his kindness. Tobei is married to Ohama (Mitsuko Mito) and wants to be a samurai to fight in the war; but he is laughed at for not having any armor or weapons.
Genjuro and Tobei work hard to make more pottery and are helped by their wives. When soldiers are coming, they hide. Genjuro tries to keep the kiln going so that the pots in it will not be ruined. Even though the fire goes out, they turn out well. All five take their pots in a boat, and a boatman warns them to watch out for pirates. Miyagi takes Genichi back home, and the other three go on to the city. Many people buy pots from them.
Lady Wakasa (Machiko Kyo) and her mother want several dishes and ask Genjuro to bring them to the Kutsuki manor where they live. Genjuro carries the pottery and finds the elegant home and is invited inside. Wakasa and her mother treat him very well, and he agrees to marry Wakasa.
Tobei goes off and buys armor and a spear. He attacks a man and finds the head of a general in a bag. He takes it to a lord who makes him a samurai with a retinue. Tobei is heading home with his men, but he is persuaded to stop at an inn. There he finds his wife Ohama has been making money as a prostitute, and she offers him a night with her. Tobei persuades her to go back home with him.
Genjuro meets a priest and learns that Lady Wakasa and her mother are ghosts who returned so that Wasaka could experience the joys of love. He paints words on Genjuro’s body to exorcise the ghosts. When Genjuro returns to their manor, Wakasa and her mother admit they are ghosts. The next day soldiers wake up Genjuro and accuse him of stealing his sword. He says it is from the Kutsuki manor, and they tell him that place burned down more than a month ago. Genjuro sees it is ashes and returns home and is welcomed by Miyagi. However, in the morning he is told that his wife died, but in his dreams her spirit tells him she will always be with him.
This fantasy drama depicts the terror and misery of a civil war when many men become desperate criminals. The two men succumb to temptations and learn that they have let themselves be deceived by the life of a samurai and by a wealthy woman even though he is married.