This is a tale of intense, heartbreaking love in adolescence, and the tragedy it gives rise to. The story opens as the main character, Kyoko Noma, visits the city of Sendai, where she used to live, and reflects on what happened there 20 years before.
The events take place in the second half of the sixties, when the winds of the counterculture student movement are sweeping Japan. Kyoko, a 17-year-old high-school student living in the home of her aunt in Sendai, away from her parents, is making the most of her delinquent youth, serving as head of the "Fight to Abolish School Uniforms" committee and attending antiwar folksong gatherings. One day she wanders into A Cappella, a coffee shop filled with the strains of Baroque music, and meets college student Wataru Domoto, his friend Yunosuke, and Yunosuke's girlfriend, Ema. Kyoko quickly falls for Wataru, who exudes a peculiar air of nihilism. The pair become lovers, but Wataru's irresolution and inscrutability play havoc with Kyoko's emotions. She is tormented by the air of mystery surrounding him and the other two: Yunosuke, who sticks close as a shadow to Wataru, and Ema, who is in love with Yunosuke.
Then one evening all becomes clear, as Kyoko witnesses Wataru and Yunosuke making passionate love. Realizing that she has seen them together, Wataru tells her everything: the love he and Yunosuke share, the suffering it causes them, their decision to date girls. Kyoko is profoundly jealous of Yunosuke, who has won Wataru's love―but then Ema confesses she is carrying Yunosuke's child. Hoping that if those two marry, Wataru will belong to her alone, Kyoko deliberately chooses not to let Ema in on the truth, and instead lets events take their course. Her hopes are dashed as the peculiar drama involving these four young people plays out to a tragic end: Yunosuke kills Ema and Wataru commits suicide.
The air of mystery pervading the story from the beginning is slowly dispelled through Kyoko's reminiscences, a technique which the author, a master mystery writer, uses with sure command. Nostalgia for a youth of intense sexuality overlaid by a haunting sense of impending doom is blended skillfully with the tumultuous era of the sixties in this undisputed masterpiece.