Lost in Translation 464: Retrospective – Takeshi’s Castle

Thirty-eight years ago, in 1986, Tokyo Broadcasting System first aired a game show like none other, one that would sweep the globe. Created by Beat Takeshi, Takeshi’s Castle invited all, from students to professional athletes to compete on a number of obstacles. Those who managed to complete all the tests went on to storm Count Takeshi’s Castle and win one million yen (over US$6200 in 1986, about US$8140 today).

Getting past the obstacles to reach Takeshi’s Castle was no mean feat. In the first season, of the 127 competitors, only eight reached the castle, the final obstacle. While the first obstacle competitors faced, the Border Wall, was easy enough to cross, later courses challenged them. Fortunately, they had Hayato Tani, the General of the army of competitors, urging them on. How difficult were the courses? A Fighting Spirit award was given to those who came close to completing or, in their failure, impressed the hosts with how hard they fought or how amusing the failure was.

The obstacles tested the competitors’ strength, speed, balance, and, most importantly, perseverance. Dragon God’s Pond saw competitors running across stones, the goal to avoid falling into the water, but with several stones that could drop down. To succeed at the course, the competitor had to maintain momentum and figure out a safe route across, a task made more difficult with one of Takeshi’s army comes chasing. Strait of Gibraltar had competitors run across a narrow plank bridge while carrying a volleyball while Takeshi’s army shot more balls at them. Beach Boys and Girls saw competitors get on a surfboard made to travel in a circle past obstacles that needed to be jumped over; failure meant a fall into the water below.

In the above examples, contestants could wear the clothes they brought and the safety gear provided by the production. Two games, Daruma-san has Fallen Down and Star Bowling put contestants into hot, restrictive costumes, a daruma costume for the former, a bowling pin costume for the latter. With Daruma-san, contestants had to creep forward while one of Takeshi’s army counted. When done counting, the army member would turn around. Anyone who fell or was still moving would be out of the game. Star Bowling is what is expected from the name; a large bowling ball is rolled down at the contestants; anyone who fell was out.

The success rate on the above games and others was low. It was possible for a game to have no one succeed. Along with the above-mentioned Fighting Spirit Award, there were consolation games for those who wanted to keep trying. They were randomly sent to one of the three games – a trivia game that involves sliding at the answer, a tug of war against a random member of Takeshi’s army, or a challenge to catch a ball rolling through its own set of obstacles. Competitors that succeeded returned to the front and the next obstacle.

Takeshi’s Castle ran until 1990, but aired around the world in 150 countries. Some countries, the series was just translated to the local languages. There were two English language versions. One was a UK release featuring Craig Charles as the commentator. The other was an American gag dub created for Spike TV, renaming the series as MXC: Most Extreme Elimination Challenge. The UK version was condensed but kept to Takeshi’s Castle‘s original format. MXC, lacking a translator and scripts, turned the army of competitors into two competing teams. Characters were renamed, with Count Takeshi becoming Vic Romano, washed up former news anchor, General Tani becoming Captain Tenneal, and reporter Junji Inagawa becoming Guy LaDouche. The obstacles, too, were renamed to become either a double entendre, such as Dragon God’s Pond becoming SInkers and Floater, or to sound deadly, like Beach Boys and Girls renamed as Rotating Surfboard of Death. What wasn’t lost was the eagerness of the competitors and the actual action.

In 2023, TBS along with Amazon Prime, brought back Takeshi’s Castle with new episodes, new challenges, and updates to classic obstacles. Competitors ranged from junior high students to sixty-year olds, families, co-workers, professional athletes, fans of the old series, even competitors and who appeared on the original run.and their children. Beat Takeshi is still involved, and the competitors still have enthusiasm. The fun comes through no matter the series.

This article was originally published at THE REMAKE ZONE.

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