For his great military accomplishment of fighting off the army of the Heike clan from Kojima Island in Bizen Province (now the city of Kurashiki in Okayama Prefecture), the Genji clan general Sasaki Moritsuna (waki) was made the lord of Kojima. One day, he travels to the bay of Fujito, located on the shore opposite of Kojima.
Moritsuna announces that he will hear out any locals who wish to complain.
Just then, an elderly woman (shite in the first act) appears and bursts into tears upon seeing Moritsuna's face. She happens to be the mother of a man from Fujito who was killed by Moritsuna during the battle of Kojima. Moritsuna tries to hide it, but the lady presses him to tell the truth.
Moved by the woman's tears, Moritsuna tells the whole story of the incident. In order to surprise the Heike army occupying Kojima Isle, Moritsuna had lined up his troops in Fujito Bay and was looking for a way to cross the sea on horseback.
Fortunately, a local man appeared and informed him where the shallows were.
Fearing that the other Genji generals may overtake him and claim victory for themselves, Moritsuna killed the man and threw his body into the sea. Upon hearing Moritsuna's story, the mother is heartbroken. She clings to Moritsuna and begs him to kill her like he killed her son, or else bring him back.
Moritsuna promises to take care of the man's wife and child, and orders his servant (ai) to escort the mother to her home. Then he holds an elaborate memorial service with Buddhist chants and music for the man. Attracted by the chant, the man's ghost (shite in the second act) appears before Moritsuna.
He reproaches Moritsuna because the memory of his own demise still haunts him and makes him suffer. The ghost narrates the story of his death, how he was slain and thrown into the sea. Eventually, by the power of the Buddhist prayers, the man's soul achieves salvation.
The Noh play "Fujito" is based on a chapter about the battle of Fujito from the "Tale of the Heike". Although during those times it was impossible for a commoner to press charges against a person of power, in the play the mother risks her own life to criticise the absurdity of war.
One of the most tense and dramatic scenes takes place when the mother is pushed aside and falls to the ground after charging at Moritsuna, begging him to "kill her as he did her son". In one special direction, the mother's legs give way as she runs towards Moritsuna. Depending on the school, the mother may appear together with her grandson (her son's orphaned child). In that case, the child holds his grandmother back when she is about to run toward Moritsuna, and she weeps bitterly, embracing her grandson.
In the second act, the man's ghost narrates the account of his own demise, illustrating his story with certain gestures. Belonging to the silent majority, in the second act the man's ghost appears swinging a staff, which symbolises his "voice without a voice". He thrusts the staff as if accusing Moritsuna, he raises it as if trying to assault him, during his long narration he holds it up in the air like a sword, or puts it behind his neck like shackles, expressing his state of powerlessness and the state of his body drifting on the sea surface. In the end, he likens it to an oar with which he rows the boat to heaven; then, by suddenly throwing it away, he lets the audience know his soul has achieved Buddhahood.
In the first and second act of this play, the same Noh actor has to play the roles of two radically different characters.
A historical record from the 16c. states that the generals Maeda Toshiie and Ōtani Yoshitsugu watched a performance of "Fujito" in which the daimyo Toyotomi Hidetsugu played the leading role. It is fascinating to imagine their thoughts on the play, having been put in the same position as Moritsuna by the maelstrom of war.