The film depicts a rape and murder through the widely differing accounts of four witnesses, including the perpetrator and, through a medium (Fumiko Honma), the murder victim. The story unfolds in flashback as the four characters-the bandit Taj?maru (Toshiro Mifune), the murdered samurai Kanazawa-no-Takehiro (Masayuki Mori), his wife Masago (Machiko Ky?), and the nameless woodcutter (Takashi Shimura)-recount the events of one afternoon in a grove. But it is also a flashback within a flashback, because the accounts of the witnesses are being retold by a woodcutter and a priest (Minoru Chiaki) to a ribald commoner (Kichijiro Ueda) as they wait out a rainstorm in a ruined gatehouse. Each story is mutually contradictory, leaving the viewer unable to determine the truth of the events.