Takeshi’s Castle is a game show from Japan, which is very much in the style of the Endurance gameshows made famous in the West by Clive James, but with one crucial difference; it’s very silly, and consequently very funny.
One hundred contestants are whittled down through several games, most of which involve trying to avoid falling into a pit of muddy water. General Lee is the intrepid guide in each episode, sending the contestants into battle. The ‘survivors’ of these games become Show Down challengers (often no more than 10, sometimes 1). The Show Down is the storming of “Takeshi’s” castle (Takeshi is a Japanese celebrity, I think *), which is defended by the Emerald Guard, who also provide the opposition in many of the games. The storming and defending of the Castle is done via odd-looking dodgem cars with either a laser or water cannon attached, in order to shoot the sensor or pierce the paper circle of each dodgem. Craig Charles compares them to ’70’s mobile discos, which seems broadly fair. The game is notoriously difficult, due to the experience of the Emerald Guard, and I have only seen one winner so far. There isn’t much fuss, however; there is just a fanfare and a reward of a million yen (£5000).*
After the general chaos of each game, there is a replay of the most
entertaining pratfall at end of the round, chosen by producer Ben Mole of Black Mole Films, who repackage the show for Challenge TV with garish animated titles and provide Craig Charles as the presenter.
There has been criticism of Craig Charles’s presenting, but to be fair, commentating on a Japanese version of It’s A Knockout with, it appears, no information from the programme makers themselves and no way of translating the original soundtrack, would tax even the most professional of presenters. Craig really does quite well considering, and, after a shaky start, has really started to come into his own. He has even created his own catchphrases, such as; ‘Happy Clappy Jappy Chappy (in Nappies)’, ‘Sayonara'(at the end, obviously), ‘There’s no such thing as cold weather, only inadequate clothing’, ‘Russian judge gives 9.9′(for ‘Wipe Out’ somersaults) ‘Rock and roll version of Mikado’ (Quake) and ‘Back to the happy farm’ (when a contestant goes out). He’s also fond of jokes about injuring the privates, and other parts of the body when an unfortunate contestant comes a cropper. The only real complaint I have is that he seems to think that making sarky remarks about contestants with a few extra pounds of fat is amusing, when they aren’t any better or worse than the others. Lazy, Craig, lazy.
In any case, there’s far more amusement to be had in the actions of the contestants, rather than their appearance. They often shout Japanese phrases before doing the challenge, throwing their fist in the air (often prompting an ‘ooh, confident’ remark from Craig), which also provokes laughter from the people at the original recording. I have also recently seen a contestant who insisted on doing what appeared to be an inept body-popping dance before and after each challenge, which defintely transcended the language barrier. You’ll be pleased to know that he got through to the final, but, no, he didn’t win. Shame, really.
The Emerald Guard are the opponents for many of the games, and are a
motley crew, to say the least. The most notorious is Animal, the only
Caucasian Emerald Guard and, it’s fair to say, a big lad. In fact, he’s
huge, and looks even more so compared with many of the contestants (I don’t wish to be stereotypical here, but the Japanese aren’t generally known for their large stature), who are suitably scared of him. He plays a similar role to Wolf in Gladiators and appears to be very popular.
In the interests of adding a little bit of context, here’s a list of
just some of the many games, with a description.
This is a starting game. The contestants pick up a foam piece and fit
it in a corresponding hole. There are 82 pieces to 100 contestants, so
those without a fit go out of the game.
Another starting game. The contestants find a disc and sit on the board
with the corresponding colour and/or number. The Emerald Guard spin the
wheel and the colour/number picked loses. There are 82 discs for 100
This is designed like a Nintendo game; the contestant has to make their
way across the course, competing with a ‘pink thing’ on a rail above.
If the pink thing gets to the end first, the contestant loses. The
course is built on a fairly thin platform, so it’s easy to fall off into the water on the way. First the contestant dodges the ‘goulies’ (they tend to deliberately miss anyway), and then goes on a conveyor belt, running the opposite way, whilst avoiding a wrecking ball from above (this can be very off-putting if it hits the head, but they have helmets). They then jump over the ‘kebabs’ spinning around, and then jump on a trampoline into a foam pool. They then need to dodge the space hopper being swung at them, avoid the madman, get onto a ’roundabout thingy’ and jump off into another foam pool, then avoid three more space hoppers before getting to a rope swing to the last bit of the course, where they win if they don’t fall into the water and get there before the pink thing. If you don’t beat the pink thing and have managed to get to the end, the man at the end pushes you in the water anyway.
Some stones are fixed, and some are not; contestants have to make their
way across the lake without falling in the water. Slips and more spectacular falls are common, as well as the more tentative contestants
standing on a floating stone and sinking. In a children’s version, General Lee helps a very young contestant across the lake. This is too cute for words.
Show of Hands
The teacher (a Guard) reads out sums and the contestants, dressed in
big foam hand suits, have to run and jump on the corresponding solution
card. The first ‘hand’ to do so correctly goes through each time. It’s
easy to fall over in these suits, adding to the fun.
A big surfboard on a long arm goes round in a circle, which the
contestant has to balance on whilst jumping over a ‘whale’, running over a platform as the board goes underneath, jump over the second ‘whale’, then jump onto the ledge. There is a high failure rate due to difficulty in balancing, and many impressive somersaults are performed.
The contestants are dressed as stereotypical Japanese pensioners with
wigs on and have to balance on cushions (kneeling) as the house set
shakes from side to side. Those still standing at the end go through.
This is a very thin bridge made out of slats; the contestants have to
catch a ‘golden ball’ from General Lee and make it across the bridge
whilst being subjected to balls being blasted at them by the Emerald
Guard. If the contestant drops the ball, they must go back to pick a second up, and if they are knocked off into the safety net, they drop out of the game. Caution pays here, but balls to the face are often the ones to knock people off regardless.
The player releases a ball in the ‘pinball machine’ and catches the
ball coming out at the other end, directed by friends. Either way, they
usually end up in the muddy pool as you have to jump forward into it in
order to have a chance of catching the ball in your bucket.
Contestants in padded skittle suits take a card to determine their
place in the skittle line up, and the Guard release a huge bowling ball
towards them. Any to fall over lose (movement is restricted due to the
costume pinning their arms to their sides).
Contestants need to get to one end of the pool to the other over a set
of huge rollers above the pool. As you might imagine, there’s plenty of
scope for injury here. A similar game is played with one huge roller
which is guided down a set of rails.
Rice Bowl Down Hill
Two brightly coloured Emerald Guards push the contestant down a water
slide in a giant ‘rice bowl’, with the assistance of running water. The
aim is to avoid capsizing in the pool at the bottom on impact. Some
mexican-like chant is often shouted at the start, but Craig is equally
mystified about this as I am. Contestants falling out prematurely never
fail to amuse. The terrible two Guards in this game are often seen in
Bridge Ball and a game called Dominoes (the contestants run across a line of foam dominoes, and, well, I’m sure you can guess).
The Dragon Lake
Contestants have to swing on a rope in a circle towards a platform
which they have to land on. This requires upper body strength and accuracy,
and is very difficult, with most people landing up in the muddy pool.
Craig marvels that any manage to get through at all. Poles Apart is a
similar game, but with a general pole vault theme. This is just as
difficult, with most contestants sliding down the pole.
I’m sure you’ve got the idea by now. There have been many variations of Takeshi’s, with parent and child, women only, international, couples and children only specials, but although the games may be modified or invented to cater for this, the main theme is the same. Basically, it’s people being silly, and although there is a substantial cash prize for a winner, the games are obviously so difficult that the contestants are just playing for the sheer fun of it. Fancy dress is common, and I find it an often clever and amusing programme, which never takes itself seriously. In fact, I feel it’s a valuable tool for international relations, as people in the West rarely see the Japanese larking about, and it proves that, deep down, all humans are the same; we all want to dress up in a silly costume and fall into a muddy pool. Yes, that’s right.