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Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Across the Pond and Beyond: Takeshi's Castle

I am well aware of the fact that today is Wednesday, and that I really should be talking about pop culture from around the world, as Wednesdays have been known as 'Across The Pond And Beyond' since this blog first began. 

However, to properly begin this blog that celebrates global media, I have to bring up a North American reference.  Don't worry.  It will all tie in later.  Trust me.

By now, I'm fairly certain that most of you reading this blog have either watched, or at the very least heard of this current game show event.

Ah, yes.  Wipeout.  The summer game show that quite literally splashed into our lives during the summer of 2008.  Hosted by John Anderson and John Henson, and featuring commentary from the field by Jill Wagner, the show was almost like a combination of American Gladiators, Fun House, Double Dare, and Battle Of The Network Stars all rolled into one hour long show.

Basically, the gist is that twenty-four people compete against each other for the chance to win $50,000 in cash.  First, they must get through a qualifier round, which has included such obstacles as toppling towers, a suckerpunch wall, donut swings...

...oh yeah...there's also the obstacle known as the Big Balls.  The only constant obstacle currently in Wipeout from the very beginning.

From there, the top twelve compete in some sort of endurance challenge where the field is whittled down to six, and then from there, the group is put in another challenge, etc, etc, etc, until three are left.  Those three compete in a final challenge where the one who completes the 'Wipeout Zone' in the fastest time will win the prize money.

In short, it's mindless television.

Yet, it's mindless television that I admit to watching.  Mindless television that I get a kick out of.  Mindless television that I'd love to compete in.

Yes, you heard it here...I want to be on Wipeout, darn it!

And with more and more countries making their own versions of Wipeout (including one in Canada), it seems that almost everyone in the world might have the shot to bounce on those gigantic red bouncy balls.

(And, yeah, I'm aware of how dirty that sounded.)

So, what does this have to do with Japanese game shows?

Although the idea of Wipeout was born and bred in the United States of America, it seems to have a lot of similarities to a Japanese program called Takeshi's Castle.

Allow me to post a video clip of this program right now.

You may have noticed some similarities between Takeshi's Castle and the American version of Wipeout.  Both shows have obstacles that spin around.  Both shows force contestants to swing on ropes to the other side.  If memory serves me, I may remember one episode of Takeshi's Castle even had big balls.

(Keeping in mind that clips from Takeshi's Castle ended up being shown on the American show MXC, which aired on Spike TV a few years ago.)

And, those similarities have spurned a lawsuit against the producers of Wipeout by the Tokyo Broadcasting System, accusing them of stealing their ideas.

The origins of the lawsuit came from the Tokyo Broadcasting System, who accused the producers of Wipeout for copyright infringement.  Their claims are that Wipeout was a blatant copycat of some of their own programming, such as Takeshi's Castle, and that specific obstacles were purposely imitated directly after some of the obstacles featured in their programming.

For the record, Wipeout producer Matt Kunitz had said that Wipeout was 90% inspired by Fear Factor and 10% Japanese game show.  (Though, I don't remember watching any episodes of Wipeout where they have to eat live cockroaches or walk across a pit filled with larvae and scorpions, so I'm not sure that this description is accurate).

I will give the Wipeout producers the benefit of the doubt however.  After watching episodes of Wipeout and comparing it to Takeshi's Castle, I can tell you that there is very little difference between the two shows.

For one, while Wipeout only had twenty-four contestants per episode, Takeshi's Castle had well over one hundred people vying for the top prize, which was one million yen.

Which sounds like an impressive amount until you realize that it was only worth about $8,000 at the time the program was originally broadcast.

The original run of Takeshi's Castle began in May of 1986, and ran for almost three years.  The basic premise of the game is a count by the name of Takeshi has a castle that is plagued with booby traps, danger, and all sorts of secrets that hold the treasure.  It's up to the army of people trying to storm the castle and reach Takeshi to lay claim to the prize at the end.

See...Takeshi's Castle actually has a storyline surrounding it...amidst dozens of obstacles that knock people into mud, water, and other gooey surprises, whereas Wipeout...just makes you jump on bouncy balls for the sole purpose of wiping out.

Secondly, a lot of the challenges were designed specifically for one person to try at a time, as opposed to Wipeout, where only the first part and the last part were designed that way.  The image up above is one of the more popular segments in the Takeshi's Castle run.  The player had to run up the hill to get to the top, but had to beware, as a gigantic styrofoam-like boulder was rolling right towards them.  A few times, they managed to evade being flattened, or managed to not be knocked back that much.  Any other time, they went rolling, rolling, rolling down the mountain.

The other major thing that Takeshi's Castle had going for it was that it seemed to have its own distinct cast of characters, each with their own personality.

I mean, naturally, you have Takashi himself.  You couldn't have a show called Takeshi's Castle without a Takeshi.  Because then the show would just have been called 'The Castle', and that would have just been lame.

But there were so many others.  Just a small list, as I'm running short on time.

Takeshi's Gundan - the guards of the castle, dressed in green and white...affectionately known as the Emerald Guards.

Brad Lesley - an American/Japanese baseball player who tried to humiliate contestants during the challenges.

Yoroi - a sixteen foot tall giant who kept players from reaching their checkpoints in the game.

Large Fuji - a purple clad sumo wrestler.

Kojo Sekiyama - karaoke bar owner who judged contestants singing abilities to determine if they were allowed to move on in the competition.

Geisha Girls - they were around to help contestants in games.

I swear, I'm not making this up.

At the same time, I think after reading some of these points that you'll see that a lawsuit against the producers of Wipeout by the Tokyo Broadcasting System is a bit much.  I mean, there may have been similarities, but in the end, they are two completely different shows with different formats and different rules.  Both of them are quite entertaining in their own right, and both should be celebrated.

Besides, if Takeshi's Castle wants someone to sue, they should go after the producers of the Canadian television program THERE'S a rip-off.

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