BY Eri Kawade in Reviews | 05 MAY 98
Featured in
Issue 40

Enban Monogatari (The Hi-Story of the Flying Object) Yukimasa Matsuda (text) & Mayumi Sawachi(image)

BY Eri Kawade in Reviews | 05 MAY 98

As pre-millennial euphoria-cum-anxiety floats in the air, a sort of traffic jam in the fast lane of our stream of consciousness is developing. The key question seems to be who will be the first to become clairvoyant, and slip their foot into that much-imagined temporal gateway? Much imagined, indeed; even longed for, if you can still register what, say, Apollo 11 and 2001, once triggered in your memory reserves. In fact, we have been waiting for this promise of a bright, crystal future to materialise for almost too long, to the point that the thrill of longing has already become a dead weight, tarnished with frustration. For the most part, there still remains a lot of cleaning up to be done...

Enban Monogatari, a beautifully produced pocket-size book with illustrations of 64 UFOs, performs one of these tidying-up jobs with modest precision and a well-humoured uniqueness. In amassing fragments of flying object mythology from both past and present, the book attempts to re-configure them within a retrospective map and illustrate how the imagery of UFOs has been shaped in our mind sets. Essentially, the book provides two things: a systematised catalogue of UFOs and an extensive chronology of (hi)stories of flying objects embellished with true-or-fictitious (who knows?) testimonies of self-avowed missionaries and witnesses world-wide. The latter is augmented by relevant facts and dates in the fields of sci-fi cinema, literature and thought, as well as political/governmental space projects.

Tactile, but not readily legible, the book's title is discreetly embossed into the pure white dust cover which is perforated with numerous small discs. The entire body of the book is in either brilliant eco-clean lime green or laser-beam fluorescent orange - you can choose from two different-coloured editions. On each page are computer-drawn top and side views of a flying object, smoothed and simplified into a metallic greyscale. Each is endowed with a descriptive name such as 'mercury cell', 'one-pot dish', 'nipple', 'yo-yo', 'cuttlefish lice', or 'pao'. The pictures come with captions describing which one was found where, when and by whom. This stimulates your curiosity to wonder why a Nazi engineer designed a 'cod roe's lip' disc for a (failed) launch in 1945, or to ponder the alleged encounter between Armstrong and the other crew members of Apollo 11 with an 'opened attaché-case-like', 'boomerang-shaped' disc during their trip to the moon in 1968. At the end of the book, a pattern for making your own Adamski flying saucer using paper, a match and a glass ball is helpfully supplied.

While looking through the book, a series of simple questions arise: why are common strands of thought so prevalent in many anecdotes? Why do so many of these flying things from various places and periods share 'typical' visual characteristics? Why should they be so imbued with the sleek functionalism of the machine aesthetic, that clichéd adoration of the inorganic, artificial and techie? Why do they so often emit a strong fluorescent light, living out their brief sojourn as an entity soon-to-disappear into the depths of deep blue celestial space?

Although the book's chronology begins in 1561, the year when cross-, stick- and disc-shaped objects were witnessed in the air over Nuremberg, it largely concentrates on the last 100 years, as the story of the UFO has grown hand in hand with the technological and economic shifts of the automotive and aerospace industries. There is a poignancy in the realisation that stories of flying objects seem always to have been woven from that blurred, ambiguous relationship between the real and the imaginary. Take the year 1952, for instance: US President Truman refrained from shooting down the UFOs hovering over the White House on the advice of Einstein, who suggested that he respect the scientific achievement of such an intelligent organism - Truman subsequently established Project Sigma to monitor extra-terrestrial activity. On the other hand, Adamski, the million-selling writer and famous Venusian contactee, founded a cult society for UFO afficionados, the Royal Order of Tibet, developing a sort of cosmic theology with a rather anachronistic, conservative bent. What looms up from this history of UFO anecdotes is the complexity of a modern myth that has been constructed and implanted in our collective memories of the future.

The book's greatest charm undoubtedly lies in the two tables of diagrams printed on its inside covers. The illustrations are the outcome of digesting these 64 examples of flying discs collected from the past: 'archetypes formed through man's mental experience'. Here, the selected UFOs are classified into types and distilled into a mass of symbols - a catalogue of the products of human consciousness over the last half a century.