Can a sinful man change and find peace? It's unlikely in gang-plagued Japan. Jokichi of Mikogami, a drifter (and hired sword), goes straight after protecting a woman in distress: they marry, have a son, and Jokichi pursues his father's craft. After three years, the gangs he embarrassed when he saved his wife find the family and leave Jokichi in grief, vowing revenge. To parry his terrible swift sword, rival gangs join forces, hiring a prostitute to pose as a woman needing help and breaking the code of honor to double cross the drifter. He finds unlikely allies: a thief who aids him for fun and a one-eyed swordsman who may be Jokichi's equal in skill and honor.
Thirsting for revenge, Jokichi rashly attempts to assassinate the evil Chogoro but ends up being captured by Yakuza. His life is spared by Boss Juzaburo, in order that the harmony of an important commemoration not be further disturbed. Though now even more of an outcast, Jokichi is asked by another Yakuza boss, Umezo, to guard Oyuki, the wayward daughter of Juzaburo. The tragic consequences of this assignment will lead him into a deadly trap and a final confrontation with Chogoro.
In feudal Japan, women are vulnerable, in need of protection, and capable of deception. Jokichi of Mikogami, a drifter, has not yet fully revenged the death of his wife and son. He searches for Kunisada Chuji, who in turn has hired the knife-throwing Windmill Kobunji to kill him. Kobunji and Jokichi meet in the winter, near Sasago Pass, when both have rescued women: Jokichi has saved the lute-playing Oyae whose clan and whose lover want her dead; Kobunji has rescued Oharu, a well-born woman married to an innkeeper. Is this rescue a whim or something deeper? And why does Jokichi become the consumptive Kobunji's protector? What ultimately will Jokichi do about Oyae?
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