Takeshi’s Castle, the show that pits Japanese contestants against a variety of ridiculous and impossible-looking physical challenges, is back after 34 years.
Amazon Prime Video will show new episodes of the series that sees an army of brave participants whittled down over various tasks until a select few brave the show finale — a final boss mode that was so hard that a challenger victory made for a rare event.
The new eight-episode series will run from September 27 and Prime promises “the greatest battle in history” will await viewers. Like the original, the fictitious castle is lorded over by Beat Takeshi, who entrusts his guards and defences to stand firm against the contestants who — challenge by challenge — edge their way towards the middle. A rarely claimed cash prize is on offer for anyone able to get that far.
The concept is the same but the omens are not good. The original run of the show was cancelled in 1990 after four years when it was at the peak of its popularity — a common practice in Japan, where producers clearly have a better understanding of quitting while ahead.
Fans of the original might have been surprised by April’s announcement that new episodes would be made and also apprehensive that a much-loved staple might have its brand weakened by further poking. After all, television gameshows do not always stand up to the remake treatment.
Sky 1 binned Gladiators two series into its late 2000s comeback after a production that was hit by injuries to participants. Robot Wars lasted three series up to 2018 upon its return to BBC 2 but producers found that technology had quickly outdated the concept of the show, 20 years after first broadcast. The Crystal Maze also joined the pile after a Richard Ayoade-led series saw declining numbers tuning in.
Why does Prime Video think Takeshi’s Castle remake will take off?
For a start, the series — that is now available to stream — does come with some top talent attached, with Romesh Ranganathan and Tom Davis taking the commentary seats previously filled by Craig Charles. Previews of the series show the pair have a natural chemistry behind the microphone, with Davis’s excitement being contrasted with Ranganathan’s deadpan wit.
And, unlike other nineties hits, even ardent fans will admit there is room for improvement with the original Takeshi’s Castle. The British edit, which was broadcast on Challenge and narrated by Charles, became a hit many years later on these shores — but had the storyline all but removed in favour of maximising the contestants’ slapstick failures. The new show promises to actually profile the participants on the production line who fall face-first from a bridge into a murky swap — or “the drink”, as Charles would call it. It is a format that served Ninja Warrior and Total Wipeout — shows Takeshi’s Castle clearly inspired — in subsequent years.
From trailers, it is clear that the famous low production values on offer will reassure fans that the much-loved show has not had a mega budget overhaul.
But, of course, Takeshi’s Castle would be nothing without its challenges, of which there were dozens on the original version. Many of these were forgettable and would only appear once or twice (karaoke being one of these) but others became staples of the show and created their own legends.
The five best challenges on Takeshi’s Castle (1986-1990)
The Great Wall
Often the first challenge awaiting the 80-140 participants involved hauling themselves over an 8ft wall in order to progress to the next stage.
Simple by design, this one was an effective way of sorting out some of the more able players from those making up the numbers.
It is some miracle that no major injuries were reported on the original run of Takeshi’s Castle, considering this shin-smashing challenge was almost always played.
Participants needed to navigate across a lake of very muddy water with the only route being stepping stones — placed far apart — that were notoriously slippery.
Square / Honeycomb Maze
Contestants needed to pass from one side of the maze through a course of small rooms to the other. But what the viewers, and not the players, could see from the overhead camera were guards looking to catch out the players in the rooms, plotted in a 4x3 pattern. Anyone caught was out and those able to pass safely through would progress.
Walking over a wobbly bridge with a fierce drop either side was challenging enough for a player — but this was made harder by a need to catch and carry a ball. Further pushing this into impossible territory, castle guards then fired missiles at players while blocking their path!
And then, for the impossible and bonkers final level, with teams of guards riding buggies with paper targets and carrying water guns. Contestants would also have buggies with paper targets on their front which, if broken by water gunfire, led to elimination. The players and guards were on rival teams and any players left standing or who shot the guards’ targets would win the prize money.