Directed by Yasujiro Ozu, the leader of a traveling theater troupe visits the mother of his son, making his mistress jealous and leading to the seduction of his son.
On a hot day in a port town a kabuki show is expected from a traveling troupe. On the arriving boat the actress Sumiko (Machiko Kyo) wakes up the director Komajuro Arashi (Ganjiro Nakamura). Posters advertise their show. The actors parade through the town and are followed by children. An actor with printed sheets gives one to a boy who says he has an older sister. He hands them out to adults and invites a woman who is married to the show. He stops for a smoke, and a woman in a slip flirts with him. He takes one to a barbershop and flirts with the young woman Aiko who is shaving a customer.
Komajuro asks for a cup of tea. He asks Sumiko for his kimono so he can visit a patron. The theater owner comes upstairs and talks with Komajuro after twelve years. He introduces Sumiko as the leading lady and the young actress Kayo (Ayako Wakao). The manager asks leave and goes out. Several actors gather around.
Komajuro walks through the streets, and women notice he is older. He goes into an inn, and Oyoshi (Haruko Sugimura) welcomes him back. They are glad to see each other after twelve years. He asks if it has been hard for her. She remembers he had shoulder pains before. She serves him. He asks about their son Kiyoshi, and she says he is working at the post office. He wants to study electronics and is saving up for a trade school. He asks if he thinks his father is dead. Komajuro feels sorry for her. They drink sake, and Kiyoshi Homma (Hiroshi Kawaguchi) comes in. He and Komajuro renew their acquaintance. Kiyoshi wants to see the show, but Komajuro says it is not for him. Their plays are not high class. Komajuro suggests they go fishing again, and they agree. Komajuro returns to Oyoshi and finishes his sake.
That evening people go to the theater and watch the dramatic play. A woman draws her sword and speaks to it with reverence. Some in the audience throw money on the stage as the curtain closes. Three actors look through the curtain at the women in the audience and discuss them. Komajuro is putting on makeup and talks with Sumiko and Kayo.
The next day Kichi and another actor drink with a woman, and the flirtatious woman comes in.
An actor comes into the barbershop to see Aiko and asks for a shave, but an older woman does it.
Komajuro and Kiyoshi sit by the sea fishing and talking. Kiyoshi says his acting was overdone by mugging, unreal, and old-fashioned. Komajuro asks him about going to college and recommends studying. He should please his mother.
Sumiko has finished her bath and asks Kayo where the master is. She learns he went fishing and tells Kayo to take her bath. Komajuro comes in and tells Sumiko he was with the boys. She asks who the young man with him is, and he says the son of the innkeeper. She asks if he is worried and if he has a guilty conscience. He says she must be jealous and laughs. She agrees she knows him.
Sumiko is eating at a counter with the manager and asks him about the master. The manager says he is bound to go see his old girlfriend. She asks who she is and what she is like. He tells her to ask Roku.
In the theater Kayo and a child dance on stage, and the boy picks up the money thrown. Backstage Sumiko asks Komajuro how he feels about a small audience. She sees Roku and goes to him. He tells her where the master’s other mistress is sitting, and she looks at Oyoshi. She goes back to Komajuro who asks if it is raining. She says it is heaven’s vengeance. He says he has enough problems. She throws something down, and he tells her to behave. They can hear and see the rain pouring down.
It is raining while Komajuro plays chess with Kiyoshi. Oyoshi is preparing food. Sumiko comes in and asks Oyoshi for sake. Then she asks to see Komajuro. Oyoshi tells him, and he puts on a robe and goes downstairs. He asks Sumiko what she wants. She asks if the lady is his important patron. She says she will thank her, and she does so. She asks Kiyoshi if he is Komajuro’s son. Komajuro pulls her away and makes her leave. Outside he calls her a fool and tells her to stop meddling. He says it is not wrong for him to see his son. She calls him ungrateful for what she has done for him. He tells her to shut up and reminds her she was a whore. He can get along without her. They call each other idiots. He says he is through with her and says his son belongs to a higher class.
A few people watch a dramatic performance. Actors backstage say they are failures. Sumiko and Kayo talk as they put on makeup. Sumiko tells her about young Kiyoshi and gives her money to lead him on. She says he will fall for her, but Kayo says she does not know him. They discuss whether she could do it. Sumiko says she can keep the money, and Kayo says she will try.
Kayo asks Kiyoshi for a telegram blank and a pencil. He says he saw her on the stage, and she knows his name. She asks him to send it, and he reads that she wants to see him outside. She leaves, and he tells his boss he will be right back. He finds her in the street, and she tells him to come to the theater after the show.
Kiyoshi at home looks at his watch and goes downstairs. He tells his mother he will be right back from the post office. He goes out, and Oyoshi serves a customer.
Kiyoshi walks to the theater and finds Kayo waiting for him. He follows her inside. She is glad he came and notices he is trembling. She says she is too and kisses him. He gives her two quick kisses and one long one.
Actors sit on the beach and talk about food and women. They talk about why the master is not there. If he does not come back, they will be stranded. They see an airplane.
Kiyoshi and Kayo are sitting by a boat, and she asks if they can go on seeing each other. She says the shows are over, and they will have to part soon. She asks what he will be doing next year and thinks he will be married. He asks why. She says she is not a good girl. She admits she was leading him on at first to please Sumiko. He says that does not matter and tries to hold her hand. She says she must not. He takes her hand and kisses her.
Oyoshi asks Komajuro about the manager. He says it is a bad profession when they are stranded. He asks why their son is coming home so late. He says she will be lonely again soon. She asks where he is going next. She asks who that woman is who came there. He asks her to forgive his mistake. She says she is not jealous because she knows he is a fast worker. She asks if she will tell Kiyoshi that he is his son. He says that would be terrible. Oyoshi wants him to go on thinking he is his uncle, and he agrees with that.
Komajuro walks by the theater and sees Kiyoshi talking with Kayo on the street. Komajuro goes into the theater and sees Kayo come in. He asks where she has been and has her follow him into the main room. He asks when she first saw him. She does not answer, and he slaps her. He asks if she seduced him and calls her a slut. He pushes her, and she says what he thinks is natural. Sumiko made her try, and he asks what he had her do. She tries to leave, and he twists her arm. She admits she tried to seduce him. He orders her to bring Sumiko to him. She goes out, and he paces. Sumiko comes in and asks what he wants. He slaps her and calls her a slut. She says she did nothing, but his boy has an actress for a mistress. He hits her three times. She says he is angry but cannot always be lucky in life. He tells her to go away, and she tries to stop him from leaving. He pushes her away, and she says she had to do it because of the kept woman he has. She wants to be friends again so they will not be stranded. He says he is through with her and goes out. She sits down. He comes back in and orders her to go. He sits down alone.
A woman asks three actors why they are so quiet tonight. Kichi says it is money and lays his head in her lap. She tells him not to do that, and he sits up. They discuss what they are to do. They could leave before it is too late and use the master’s money. Kichi disagrees but will not tell on them. He never knew they were bad guys. Kichi tells them to forget it and be human beings. One man says he has laid money aside and orders drinks. Sumiko comes and orders sake. They talk to her and ask if there is news about the manager.
Actors sit in the theater, and two businessmen tell Komajuro how much they can pay. He says it is enough for railroad fares. One actor took a camera, and they talk about it. The boy eats watermelon. Their bags are packed, and they drink with Komajuro. He asks for their forgiveness and says they can make a new start if they are free. Actors say they plan to get other jobs. Komajuro says the troupe is breaking up, but they had good times. They decide to have fun and invite Sumiko to join them. She sits in the circle and is given a drink. Komajuro is asked to be nice to her. He speaks to Sensho and Roku and apologizes for being strict with them. Sensho goes downstairs and is followed by his grandson who asks what is the matter. They hear them singing. The boy sees Sensho crying and cries too.
Komajuro returns to the inn with his bag and tells Oyoshi it is a mess. Neither knows where Kiyoshi is, and he says it is terrible. He is afraid he is ruined. She asks what happened.
Kiyoshi and Kayo are sitting. She asks if he is sorry. She says he should have nothing to do with a girl like her. He should go to college, or he will be sorry. He asks if she is sorry. He will take her to his mother, and she will help them. She tells him to go home to his mother. She says they have to part, and he should forget her. He disagrees and holds on to her hand as she tries to get away. They kiss as the train goes by.
Komajuro tells Oyoshi that his son is like he is. He says he was too optimistic. His plans are in pieces. He says Kiyoshi eloped with that kind of a girl. She says he will come back; he is not a bad boy. Komajuro says young people are reckless now. She hopes he will return. She asks Komajuro to settle down because his son is old enough to understand. She says they should have told him sooner so that this would not have happened. He asks if he should make that place his home, and she says she would be delighted. He nods and wonders where Kiyoshi is now. Kiyoshi comes in and wants to ask them something. He brings in Kayo, and Komajuro calls her a fool and a slut. He slaps her, and Kiyoshi defends her. Komajuro slaps his son twice, and then Kiyoshi pushes him down. Oyoshi says that Komajuro is his father. Kiyoshi says she told him his father had died, and he does not want a father now. She says he did not want him to know that his father was a traveling actor. He worked hard to pay for his schooling. Kiyoshi asks why they are telling him this now. He says they are both selfish. He tells his father to go away and runs upstairs. Kayo is crying and asks them to forgive her. She says he did not know, and Komajuro agrees with her. He thinks he must begin anew and will leave tonight. He hopes he will be a good actor when he returns the next time. Kayo asks him to take her with him. He asks Oyoshi to take care of her, and he asks Kayo to forgive him. Komajuro picks up his bag to go, and Kayo calls Kiyoshi, going upstairs. She pleads with him to hurry. He gets up and goes downstairs. He asks his mother where his uncle is, and she says his father is on the road. She tells him to leave him alone. He always left like that before. Kiyoshi turns away, and Kayo cries. They hear the train.
Komajuro sits in the train station and sees Sumiko waiting. She comes over and lights a match for his cigarette. She asks where he is going and smokes too. She does not know where to go. She asks if he has plans. He says he is going to Kuwana where a man will give him a chance. She says she knows that man well, and they decide to work together. She buys a ticket for Kuwana.
On the train she pours him a drink.
This drama is very similar to Ozu’s 1934 silent movie, A Story of Floating Weeds, and the themes of broken family relationships, the itinerant life of actors, and difficult choices are the same.