An acrobat from Kabuki theatre leaves the spotlight of the stage after an accident. Returning to the colourful world of small shopkeepers and craftsmen in Tokyo, then known as Edo, he works with a troupe of itinerant actors, occasionally painting stage flats, and is discovered by Tsutaya, a publisher, print dealer and patron of arts. Tsutuya has trained and launched the print-maker Utamaro who leaves him for another print dealer. Realizing that a new era is dawning, Tsutaya looks for a new print-maker to illustrate the transformation of society. Tsutaya is also an habitué of the demi-monde in which the young, beautiful courtesan Hanasato becomes the object of the rivalry between the two artists, Utamaro at the height of his fame and Sharaku, still unknown but charismatic.