Acclaimed director and headmaster of the Sogestsu school of flower arranging Hiroshi Teshigahara helms this elegant historical drama about tea master Sen no Rikyu. A Buddhist priest who talks of the beauty of a single flower or the shape of a hand holding a teacup, Rikyu (played by Rentaro Mikuni) not only perfected the art of the tea ceremony, but he was one of the primary arbiters of taste during his age.
That era was a bloody one, culminating in the uniting of Japan's disparate kingdoms by a series of strong leaders. The most ambitious and the most extravagant was Toyotomi Hideyoshi (Tsutomu Yamazaki), who favored flashy displays of wealth as much as he did violent conquest.
Hideyoshi thought of the tea ceremony not as an art but as a show of refinement and power. In 1587 he held a ten-day tea-drinking orgy in Kyoto and Osaka. Hideyoshi chose Rikyu to oversee it and soon the buffoonish, violent leader and the reserved master were engaged in a thinly veiled clash of wills.
Rikyu eventually does teach Hideyoshi that beauty is found in the minute. Yet when Hideyoshi receives both guns and a globe from Portuguese missionaries, he is overwhelmed with Napoleonic visions. When Rikyu expresses his reservations about Hideyoshi's impending invasion of Korea and China, the potentate demands an apology.