Script File


JAPAN 1863. The final days of the SHOGUN as the EMPEROR gains power. The Japanese civil war will bring about the end of the SAMURAI and BUSHIDO, the Japanese code of honor.
The DAIMYO, or feudal lords, are split between their sworn liege, the shogun, or the emperor. Assassination is a dishonorable task… which is why the samurai use NINJA.
One such ninja is TOSHIRO, part of the BURAKU caste - deemed untouchable because they deal in death. After a successful assassination, Toshiro wants to take some time off - until he is given an offer to good to be true: This next assignment will be his last, and he will be rewarded with a TSUBA, or sword hilt, that will legitimize his family name and elevate him to the SAMURAI class.
Meanwhile, in MODERN JAPAN, it has been 160 years since the caste system has been eradicated - but buraku discrimination still exists via underground registries.
YUKIO, descendant of Toshiro, has hidden his family name to pass as a salaryman. However, when his father dies, his secret is revealed. He loses his job, his girlfriend, and is unable to get any employment because of his status.
Meanwhile, in ancient Japan, Toshiro is headed to sea with his bumbling protege, DAI, but little do they realize that they have been traded to the CONFEDERACY.
However, seeing their mark, Dai becomes moved by the words of this ABOLITIONIST that they are set to take out. In America, they are no longer seen as buraku. However, Toshiro reminds him of their GIRI - their DUTY.
In Modern Japan, after a long day of striking out, Yukio finds himself at a HOSTESS CLUB where some well-heeled KOREAN men sing karaoke. Overcome by his own feelings of oppression, he cannot stand to see foreigners be treated better than he is, and he starts a FIGHT. He is tossed out by security guards and beaten, internalizing his feelings of inferiority and shame at being buraku.
In the America, Toshiro discovers Dai missing - Dai is trying to help their target escape. Toshiro knows he must confront Dai, and in a moonlit duel in a cotton field, they battle. Toshiro holds his strikes but is delaying the inevitable - and he is forced to kill his protege and friend.
Yukio is taken to the local YAKUZA boss, who schools him. The buraku are born of slaughterers. Because of prejudices in Japan in finding work, up to 70% of the yakuza is buraku. The yakuza boss offers Yukio a job - an assassination to pay off his father’s debt
In modern-day Tokyo, Yukio ponders his choices. He must come to terms with who he really is. He takes on the assignment from the yakuza boss and arrives at the club where his mark is. The guards initially laugh at him - until he unsheathes his FAMILY KATANA - yet it STILL has NO TSUBA. With a KI’AI, he charges at the guards, committing to his role as a dealer of death - as a BURAKU.

  • Stephen Ken Nolly
  • Project Type:
    Screenplay, Television Script
  • Genres:
    Drama, Historical, Samurai
  • Number of Pages:
  • Country of Origin:
    United States
  • Language:
    English, Japanese
  • First-time Screenwriter:
  • Student Project:
  • WeScreenplay Diverse Voices

    February 1, 2023
    Finalist (Still in contention)
Writer Biography - Stephen Ken Nolly

Stephen Nolly is a bi-racial, Japanese-Jewish Air Force brat who cut his teeth in New York’s theater scene. After graduating from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, he was a resident artist at TriBeCa’s Flea Theater (Drama Desk, OBIE Award). After directing a piece he wrote for the NYU Tisch Writers Lab, he found commercial directing work in Los Angeles shooting for clients such as Soho House, Macallan, and Yamazaki.

Stephen is a WB Writers’ Workshop Finalist, a Paramount Writers Mentorship Finalist, was accepted into Soho House Script House Lab with Barry Jenkins and Lulu Wang, received the CA Individual Artist Fellowship, and most recently won the Thriller Genre in the ISA Fast Track Fellowship. His scripts have advanced at the Austin Film Festival, Sundance Episodic & Feature Labs, and PAGE.

Stephen is the Creative Director for Old Factory Films, a digital media agency specializing in Commercial Food Photography. He’s also been featured on, the comedy website WhoHaHa, and hosted the Improve Photography podcast with over one million followers.

Stephen enjoys high-concept, socially conscious stories, is an amateur locksmith, dabbles in horology (watchmaking), writing musical theater, was a competitive ballroom dancer, and a member of Mensa.

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Writer Statement

I started writing BURAKU after learning of the discrimination in Japan. It is still a topic not discussed in polite circles, even though the practice was officially abandoned over 150 years ago.

I first discovered the social implications when I learned that 60-70% of the Yakuza are comprised of burakumin - specifically because they cannot find legitimate employment. Another 25% is ethnically Korean, which is not as surprising in a country where explicit discrimination against Koreans is on display. However, burakumin are ethnically identical to other native Japanese. While Koreans can be identified visually, buraku are either self-identified, or outed because of these registries.

The Buraku Liberation League is an organization that has tried for decades to destigmatize burakumin in the public eye. However, after many years of failure, the current approach is to assimilate them into the public at large - in essence, hide their heritage. I was particularly struck by this as my family heritage is from Fukuoka, Japan, which is 60% buraku. Upon investigation with my family members, the non-answers and obfuscations posed more question than they solved, and my suspicions about my heritage grew.

But apart from the sociological implications of this civil rights issue, I was drawn in by the fact that this discrimination is not based on race, but on family heritage and stigma. The obstacles are so strong, it breeds new generations into organized crime, unable to live the life of a simple salaryman.

As a biracial Japanese and Jewish writer, many of my stories cover the theme of Assimilation - more specifically the COST of assimilation when navigating between two cultures. I am reminded of the PASSING PRIVILEGE that many Jews in America enjoy. However, if racism is viewed in relations to White Supremacy - Jews will never be White, regardless of how adjacent to Whiteness they become.

Moreover, when discrimination can be avoided just by hiding one’s true identity, the person trying to pass also bears the weight of SHAME. The act of lying is an admission of inferiority. For so many oppressed peoples, they have been convinced of their inferiority as a method of control. They are complicit in their oppression because they BELIEVE they deserve less. This is reflected in Yukio’s own feelings about himself, and how he believes he DESERVES to be punished, allowing himself to be beaten repeatedly, a habit started through his father’s abuse.

This story is intensely personal for me and my family, but it is also fraught with peril. Buraku are still considered taboo in Japan, and my hope is that this story can shed some light on the discrimination, and perhaps tell another side to a culture that has been repeatedly called “unclean” and “inhuman”.