Absolutely, without a moment's hesitation, the funniest thing I've ever seen on TV.

Takeshi's Castle is a game show of endurance, exported from Japan. It is extremely popular in Germany.

I've only seen about 20-30 minutes of one episode, but it began a quest I have yet to fufill: Find Takeshi's Castle on videotape somewhere in the United States.

In the brief bit that I saw, I was treated to a contest where about a dozen contestants were wearing huge white glove costumes, about 10 ft (3 meters) tall. As the camera pulled back, it revealed a playing field littered with huge playing cards. The contestants received the go signal, and they charged forward toward the cards.

Just to keep you updated, the current mental image is 12 giant white hands running towards a bunch of giant playing cards.

As if it couldn't get any better, the giant running hands then flung themselves down onto the cards. Face first, and without the use of any arms to break the fall. And they piled up, hands piling up on hands, like that old game about who can get a hand on top.

Assistants then came out and helped the poor hands to stand up. Those with cards got to continue, those without were sent away.

As if that wasn't enough, the same show also featured people being chased through a maze of doors, with only a single actual exit that didn't open into a pit of mud. Lots of shots of people running through doors and flying, full speed down into a mudpit.

There was a mechanical bull dressed up like a horned iguana. Contestants had to stay on, but also had to use a water pistol to try and shoot a rubber bat tied to a balloon. If they held on too long, assistants would come forward and attack them with fire extinguishers.

With ten contestants left, they drew cards, the number corresponding to a bowling pin. Yep, they were dressed up as giant bowling pins. Everyone could see the giant bowling ball coming except the first pin, who was turned around backwards. I'm not sure how someone could win, but it was darn funny watching people get knocked over by a giant bowling ball.

These are memories I will cherish.

The show originally aired on the Japanese station TBS, who also produced it about 10 years back. Today, it is shown on the German channel DSF, featuring the whole show dubbed by an incredibly stupid speaker, who can't even pronounce the names right or close to right.

The show always begins with the general instructing his 120 new recruits to do their best. Sometimes all recruits are members of a company, sometimes fathers with their sons, sometimes women only, one time was gaijin only, but most of the time they are just normal Japanese out to have a day of fun.

Then there are a number of obstacles that must be overcome one after the other. Those are not always the same, but alternate between shows, with new games added all the time. Those contestants who fail at an obstacle are no longer in the running, so the number of contestants is reduced drastically by the time the final game begins.

Here is a list of the games I can think of from the top of my head:

  • A 50% wall that the contestants must climb over. To add to the difficulty, there is a mud moat on both sides of the wall, that ensures the contestants get dirty real quick. (Takeshi seems to like wet contestants.)
  • Storming the barricades: All recruits must try to get through a stone barricade of multiple levels. To add to the difficulty, the defenders (Takeshi's men) fire waterguns at paper target ever recruit must wear. If the paper rips, The contestant is out.
  • The circling mushroom: The players must try to hold onto a mushroom that wildly spins to get to the other side of a mudpit. Those who can't hold on, get wet.
  • The surfer I: A surfboard in a pole turns around an axis. Stay on it, and jump over obstables. If you fall, there is a mudpit (See the pattern yet?).
  • The surfer II: The players must slide along a pier while lying flat on a surfboard. If they go to fast, they fall over the edge, into... If they are to slow, they won't reach the marked area, and be pushed off bu a defender.
  • Karuta: The card game with the giant hands mentioned above.
  • Karaoke: Simple: Sing the song you are given. If you are bad, you are out.
  • Earthquake: Sit upright on a pile of cushions while the room shakes, and try not to fall off.
  • My favorite, the Pinball: Players are stuck into a giant plastic ball, and then rolled down into a giant pinball machine. Those who enter the wrong exits are out.
  • The Maze: A set of hexagonal rooms with doors everywere. Players are hunted by two defenders. There is one exit and lots of mudpits.
  • The 4 walls: Four walls with three doors each. Some doors are fake, only painted on, so when a recruit storms against them, pain often follows.
  • Sumo: Pick a ball, the colour of the ball determines which wrestler you are set against. Some are easy pushovers, while others...
  • Go bowling: Recruits are dressed in lage pin costumes, and then draw cards to determine their position. Then a giant ball is rolled down a hill, towards the pins. Fall and you are out.

There is a buttload of other games I forgot right now, if you know one, tell me and I'll add it. The last three games however where always the same. The first one involved passing a wooden bridge over a ravine filled with... While on it, you must catch a ball fired at you, and the the defenders shoot at you with a ball cannon, often aiming for the head or even worse spots (Yes, there too!). If there are still too many players remaining, there are stones attached on the bridge which you must go over or around... Oh, did I mention the bridge was held by one rope only, and thus turned around it's own axis very easily?

Then there were the tunnels to the castle, a set of five holes the players had to jump in one after another. Problem was, two holes held defenders.

Finally, out of once 120 recruits 1-10 reached the castle to do battle with Takeshi Kitano (or sometimes Dummy-Takeshi) himself. All the defenders are there too for this final game: Both sides have vehicles with paper targets and water guns, but Takeshi's vehicles were bigger, faster, and usually more numerous. They also had stronger waterguns. If the players managed to destroy the paper on Takeshi's vehicle, they won. But the game was set so this only rarely happened. Thee was a time when I watched every day, and I still only saw the players win twice. But the goal was to have fun, and that they probably had.

There were also acting scenes between the games, where Takeshi talks with his advisers, or discusses new tactics, games or costumes, but these were all lost in the awful german dub of the show.

Takeshi's Castle has, relatively recently, been brought to the UK. You can find it on Challenge? TV (NTL channel 307, Sky Digital channel 121, Telewest channel 152) at times which it would be futile for me to attempt to keep accurate here - there's usually at least one every 24 hours.. Unlike the German version, no attempt has been made to dub the Japanese into English. Instead, commentary voice-overs are provided by Craig Charles, best known for playing Dave Lister in the cult comedy sci-fi TV series Red Dwarf. The show has been stripped down to just the games themselves - no inbetween talky bits. At each challenge, we watch eight or nine contestants try and fail, with Craig commentating. Then one will succeed. Then we watch a replay of Craig's most spectacular failure, and it's straight on to the next challenge. Appearances are deceptive, however - at a success rate of one in ten, there would be no contestants left after three rounds. In actuality at least 50% of the contestants make it through a given challenge - it's just that the failures are so much more entertaining!

And entertaining it is. Though Takeshi's Castle bears more than a passing resemblence to the Japanese gameshows where people jump through hoops of fire and swallow bugs and other unpleasant activities, Takeshi's Castle is altogether more fun to watch. The challenges are hard but rarely physically painful - everyone wears a crash helmet, and the worst that can happen to you in this show is falling ten feet into some muddy water. But more importantly, the contestants are enjoying themselves. They have come here voluntarily, signed up for a ridiculous day out of physical activity. They are enthusiastic. They are smiling!

In fact, Takeshi's Castle makes you care about the contestants. You want these guys to succeed, because they have the enthusiasm to go for it. Here's an example. The contestant is confronted with about eight large, brown cylinders, suspended horizontally so that they can rotate. Each roller is about six feet in diameter, and the gap between each one is about three feet. To get from here to the end, the contestant must leap from the top of one roller to the next, until he gets to the other side. If he slips, he falls into the gap between the rollers and into the muddy water below.

So this guy, about the sixth guy we've seen so far, comes up to take his shot. Let's call him Jack. He runs - he gets past three or four rollers, so he's already doing better than several others. He's skipping so fast he doesn't have time to fall. Good stuff.

Then he gets to the sixth roller and his foot slips. He falls backwards and does the splits onto roller 5. OUCH! But NO! He's not fallen yet! Quick as a flash, and apparently completely unhurt (or just ignoring the pain), Jack springs to his feet on roller 5 and dashes all the way back to the starting platform! This is allowed in Takeshi's Castle - as long as you don't fall, you can take as long as you like. Jack turns around and gives it another shot. What a contender! He makes it past three, four, five - OH NO! He slips again! NO! cry all the viewers. He was doing so well! Jack clings onto a roller for a few more seconds, but a cry of dismay goes up as the hero falls into the water. Bad luck, Jack. You were doing so well!

There is something curiously compelling about watching Takeshi's Castle. There's nothing quite like watching someone skilfully evade two enemies, throw open a door and triumphantly run straight into a muddy lake, Wile E. Coyote keep-running-in-mid-air style. Or watching people play Grandmother's Footsteps... uphill... while wearing giant red plum costumes with only their head and feet poking out. Or the girl who had to carry a golden egg across a narrow, wobbly bridge while people below her pelted her mercilessly with black balls fired out of cannons, got three-quarters of the way across, got hit, dropped the egg and nearly fell, clung on to the bridge by the tip of a fingernail, clawed her way back up, went back, got another egg and made it all the way across, victorious!

The final confrontation at the castle itself is rather anticlimactic, and almost nobody ever wins. But even so, Takeshi's Castle makes for compelling viewing, especially if you're with a lot of other people. Highly recommended.

This show was just recently introduced to the US on Spike TV (previously it was on TNN, if memory serves). Right this minute I am watching a marathon of said show.

Having watched about 20 or 30 episodes of it, I can say that the only other gameshow to match the laughs would be Drew Carrey's "Whose Line Is It Anyways?" Seeing the potential, the licensors re-dubbed it in English, making it something even my straight and narrow grandmother laughs at. To say it is crude would be a little far, but subtley perverse sounds like a good rating.

The hosts, Kenny Blankenship and Vic, constantly rag on each other. Unlike in other countries, they did leave in talking bits in for the US. However, I have never once seen the boss fight in all the episodes I have seen.

The other hosts, Guy Le Douche, Goon Le Douch and any other Le Douche Brothers that appear, all make an attempt at perversion or just plain harassment.

In the translation, I highly doubt anything is left intact. Kenny, Guy, Vic, none of those sound quite Japanese to me. The names of the people doing the contests are quite blatantly wrong and often just puns or silly names. Also, I am pretty sure they don't leave the actual group titles intact. Instead of having gaijin day or girls day, we get Airline Workers Versus Circus Freaks or different groups like that. And lord do they make the best of them. During the opening chat with his crew, The General makes the quotable quotes.

Overall, one of the funnier shows on the airwaves in America today. I guess Americans refuse to admit we like watching people humiliate themselves.

Takeshi's Castle is in the US in the form of MXC, or the Most Extreme Elimination Challenge, a gleefully raunchy spoof of the Japanese humiliation-based gameshow. It's shown by Spike TV, which bills itself as the First Network for Men and uses that billing as an excuse to show really gross shit. Most of it's simply stupid, but MXC is superbly, absurdly funny.

It isn't the original Japanese show in anything but the visuals. All the voices are original to MXC (and usually full of double-entendres), all the characters and contestants are renamed, and they do as much as they can to make it disgusting as well as violent.

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