37-year-old Toru Watanabe is landing in Hamburg, West Germany, when he hears an orchestral cover of the Beatles’ song “Norwegian Wood”. He is suddenly overwhelmed by feelings of loss and nostalgia. He thinks back to the 1960s, when so much happened that touched his life. Watanabe, his classmate Kizuki, and Kizuki’s girlfriend Naoko are the best of friends. Kizuki and Naoko are particularly close and feel as if they are soulmates, and Watanabe seems more than happy to be their enforcer. This idyllic existence is shattered by the unexpected suicide of Kizuki on his 17th birthday. Kizuki’s death deeply touches both surviving friends; Watanabe feels the influence of death everywhere, while Naoko feels as if some integral part of her has been permanently lost. The two of them spend more and more time together going for long walks on Sundays, although feelings for each other are never clarified in this interval. On the night of Naoko’s 20th birthday, she feels especially vulnerable and they have sex, during which Watanabe realizes that she is a virgin. Afterward, Naoko leaves Watanabe a letter saying that she needs some time apart and is quitting college to go to a sanatorium. These events are set against a backdrop of civil unrest. The students at Watanabe’s college go on strike and call for a revolution. Inexplicably, the students end their strike and act as if nothing had happened, which enrages Watanabe as a sign of hypocrisy. Watanabe is befriended by a fellow drama classmate, Midori Kobayashi. She is everything that Naoko is not — outgoing, vivacious, and supremely self-confident. Despite his love for Naoko, Watanabe finds himself attracted to Midori as well. Midori reciprocates his feelings, and their friendship grows during Naoko’s absence. Watanabe and Midori share a special kind of relationship where both of them understand each other.
When he hears her favourite Beatles song, Toru Watanabe recalls his first love Naoko, the girlfriend of his best friend Kizuki. Immediately he is transported back almost twenty years to his student days in Tokyo, adrift in a world of uneasy friendships, casual sex, passion, loss and desire – to a time when an impetuous young woman called Midori marches into his life and he has to choose between the future and the past.