Alien Splendor

Alien Splendor

It took us a long time to drive there. The map written in tiny kanji characters that left me in the front squinting and tracing words with my finger, soundlessly voicing pronunciation options until one clicked. The stereo was bassy, kick drum to the chest and the water rippling in time to the beat. “Left into, I think it’s ‘Asahi ga oka’ but I’m not sure. It should be just up here.”

It felt good to be on the road again. Good to be back in a car. I hadn’t driven since the sweaty horror of rush hour in Kuala Lumpur. Hadn’t wanted to even deal with cars since then. So it was nice, then, to just slump back in the passenger seat and do battle with the map. By the time we edged off the highway and struck into suburbia, it was already dusk. Our target visible a long time before we reached it, edging in concentric circles closer and closer, until we found a nearby shopping centre and set out on foot.

The first fence wasn’t big, and we easily clambered over it, then ducked through a service gate to avoid the second. It was totally dark now, and remarkably quiet for the suburbs. The huge complex backs onto a golf course on one side, and a hospital on the other, perhaps explaining the stillness. You knew you were still near Osaka though, that much was clear from the light-pollution reflecting off the low-hanging clouds and lending a flat grittiness to everything. Film Noir with neither sirens or coats.

The single lane road curved down and to the right, and as we neared the bottom of the hill, opened onto a huge plaza, the tower looming at the far side. I wondered what I’d say to Security if they jumped us, and decided I’d leave the talking to her. Sure of her ability to make friends with anyone within the first minute of talking to them. Sure of her easy confidence.

Words do a poor job of describing the drunken, other-worldly majesty of the tower. It stretches up towards the sky, bulbous protrusions and huge gaps in its superstructure ensuring that its profile is visually alarming. It cannot be considered symmetrical in any sense of the word, but rather looks as if it were shaped by the hands of some gleeful toddler; adding clay as necessary to make certain his lumpy masterpiece stayed balanced.

It is hard to take in at a glance, as something that huge and disarming and magical surely belongs on the set of a science fiction movie, or in the pages of a children’s picture book, and not hidden in the back suburbs of Osaka.

As we climbed the stairs of the central plaza, and approached the base of the tower, there was an audible “thunk” and then again three times in quick succession, “thunk-thunk-thunk.” I whirled around, thinking we’d set off some kind of alarm. That we’d have to run and hide in the park. Breaking and entering. Extradition. Nothing. Just the distant buzz of traffic. I turned back to the tower. Ten red lights now ran up its sides, pulsing slowly in the darkness.

We walked a slow revolution around the tower, taking our time, and I was acutely conscious of how bizarre this was. We sprawled backwards onto the stairs and lay, staring up at it. Almost too surreal to believe. Never before in my life have I felt so utterly disconnected from reality. We must have lain there, in the darkness, at the foot of some vision of a utopian future, for hours. It felt like that. Passage of time measured by the slow blinking of the red lights atop the tower.

On the way home we bought eggs, and capsicum, and thick, fatty bacon and plotted a Spanish Omlette and cheap red wine and maybe getting the heater out, because Autumn had finally set in. Because that would be normal, and we both felt like we needed normal.