Creation and presentation are two sides of the coin. Japanese TV game show Takeshi’s Castle originally aired in Japan from 1986 to 1990 with a compelling mixture of ridiculous (and frequently dangerous) physical obstacles, absurdist humour, and extremely high difficulty.
Endless international repackaging led to enduring popularity. Revived in 2023 on Amazon Prime and with commentary from comedians Romesh Ranganathan and Tom Davies, is Takeshi’s Castle still worth storming?
What Is Romesh and Tom Take Takeshi’s Castle About?
In theory, 100 contestants attempt to last through a bunch of challenges that range from physically hard to dumb luck.
The end goal is to ‘storm’ Takeshi’s Castle and win one million yen (around £5.5k or $6.7k). In reality, so many get knocked out that the producers hand out dodgy ‘spirit’ (i.e. ‘makes good TV’) awards to allow contestants to keep competing so that at least some remain for the final.
Writing about Takeshi’s Castle is difficult because in each country it was broadcast in chopped up the original footage in different ways.
In the UK the show gained popularity primarily on the Challenge TV channel with voice over from Craig Charles (Red Dwarf).
Edited to cut out virtually all of the in-between games skits, episodes were slimmed down from the original hour length to 30 minute blasts that focused purely on the comically daft challenges.
For this 2023 revival the original Japanese format is, for the most part, retained; Amazon Prime’s 8 episodes of 40 minutes each split up 4 original episodes between them.
So that means more time for contestant introductions, progression graphics, and ‘bits’ with Takeshi’s various acted characters. It’s a purer experience, but not necessarily a more entertaining one.
At its core Takeshi’s Castle has fun material. No-one does dumb challenges quite like the Japanese.
Be you clinging for dear life to a giant zipline mushroom, dashing over changeably solid stepping stones, surfing an obstacles-walloping surfboard, or navigating a maze stuffed with ink-handed nutjobs, the games are silly enough to break through.
The final stage is, if anything, even harder than before with contestants now stuffed in a cage, pushed down a track, and tasked with firing tennis balls into a tiny target.
Romesh and Tom Take Takeshi’s Castle Official Trailer
Is Romesh and Tom Take Takeshi’s Castle Worth Watching?
Despite the international affection for Takeshi’s Castle undoubtedly playing no small part in its 2023 revival, ‘pure from the source’ gameshows can struggle to translate. Thus you should never overlook the power of a good domestic narrator in making the show work.
For UK viewers, much has changed in the comedic scene since Craig Charles’ original run between 2002 – 2004. Romesh and Tom’s schtick leans towards the current comedic sensibilities of sardonic eye-rolling, or back-and-forth banter, whereas Charles favoured risqué or physicality centred jokes.
Your preference is your own, of course. I’d argue that despite unnecessary jabs at the body sizes of some contestants, Charles’s great strength was zeroing in on, pulling out, and polishing the humour possible from often repetitive footage.
In theory, you see one person fall flat on their face then you’ve seen them all, but Charles’ quips and guffaws kept it frequently fresh.
To be fair, Romesh and Tom have an arguably harder job considering they also have to talk over the parts where lavishly costumed Japanese characters chew the fat.
Presumably limited translation has been provided to them – their constant mispronunciation of the famous ‘Sasuke’ contest (otherwise known as Ninja Warrior) is endlessly grating – but how much you can get through their whittering on apropos of nothing will most likely rely on how much you like their style of material.
Another inevitability about Romesh and Tom Take Takeshi’s Castle is this reboot actually seems to (shock!) give a care to health and safety.
Far be it from me to bemoan this – the original series must have had contestants sign extremely good legal waivers – but part of the appeal of Takeshi’s Castle was always the wince worthy wipeouts. Safer games are less entertaining. Sorry.
The picture may be more high-res, the games less likely to break bones, and the format better preserved, but Romesh and Tom Take On Takeshi’s Castle is a lacklustre attempt to rebottle the Nihonshu.
As Craig Charles’ old dad used to say, “No winners this time on Takeshi’s Castle”
Words by Mike Record
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