Godzilla is supposed to lay waste to Tokyo, Japan, not to Lethbridge, Alberta. So, when the beast himself stomped across the prairie landscape, I knew we were in for a night to remember. I snuggled into my lawn chair, slurped my honeydew bubble tea, and eagerly awaited the chaos.
I have been to Lethbridge on many occasions (one of my best friends lives there) and every time I visit, I am amazed at what a perfect basecamp for adventure it is. Just a few hours drive in any direction will take you from prairies to badlands to mountains. This trip, however, we decided to stick closer to home and visit the Nikka Yuko Japanese Garden. The draw? The gardens themselves, yes, but also an irresistible outdoor screening of the original 1954 Godzilla film.
In order to fully appreciate the Gardens, we went for a reconnaissance visit during the early afternoon. The effect of the garden, meant to promote tranquility and harmony, was immediate. The gruelingly hot day was held back by the winding and shaded paths under the trees (which are pruned in a way that you are able to appreciate each branch, as well as the space in between). The music of the trickling stream slowed and sped up as we walked past different water features. And even the suggested route through the garden is meant to maximize the visual impact and mystery of the place as it unfolds around each turn.
Just about the time I could almost tangibly feel the Zen rearranging my alpha waves, we came to the centrepiece of the gardens: The Pavilion. If you remove your shoes (there are guest sandals available!) you may go inside. Here you can participate in tea ceremonies, reflexology and even sake tasting. But we didn’t come for the sake, we came for Godzilla. Knowing we were coming back for the evening’s festivities, we tranquilly finished our tour around the remaining corners of Nikka Yuko.
Returning at dusk, armed with lawn chairs and blankets, we staked our claim on the cool grass. And with popcorn and bubble tea in hand, we awaited the show. The night began with some amateur theatre; a battle royale between Godzilla himself and Tomo the cat (Nikka Yuko’s mascot of friendship). Normally, something like this would have come off as cheesy to me, but perhaps the Zen of the Gardens had gotten to me – the little act was so bad it was good. Accompanied by a live performance of the Godzilla theme on traditional drums and a cello, Godzilla and Tomo duked it out in front of the audience – with the cat eventually winning the day.
As the night sky dimmed and took with it the blazing summer heat, the movie began. I had never seen the original, Japanese produced Godzilla, and via modern Hollywood, I had been lead to believe that the film was a classic monster movie. In fact, it was a scathing (albeit, a little B-movie from time to time) commentary on nuclear war. The faux newsreel footage in the film looked eerily familiar to the real images from the war. Considering the bombs were dropped in ‘45 and the film was released 9 years later, it made for an unusual experience watching the film in an international Friendship Garden that was created, in part, as a result of the effects of WWII at home in Canada, and the nearby Japanese Internment Camps.
But just as I was waxing philosophical, Godzilla smashed through a radio tower with his radioactive breath and the lead actress let out a scream that Fay Wray would have been proud of. And just like the Gardens, the balance of B-movie hilarity, political commentary, and international friendship struck me as the perfect way to celebrate the Nikka Yuko Japanese Garden’s 50th anniversary.