The man who unknowingly applied to participate in an inhumane 15-month-long, social experiment broadcast for all of Japan in the late 90s, will be coming out with a documentary about his experiences. The Japanese comedian Tomoaki Hamatsu, better known as Nasubi, will be starring in the documentary about his time on the TV show himself. The documentary, named The Contestant, will tell the story of how Nasubi was tricked into becoming a reality TV star for a mercilessly challenging social experiment that had irreversible effects on his life. The Contestant will have its world premiere on September 8, at the 48th Toronto International Film Festival in Canada.
Susunu! Denpa Shonen (lit. Do not proceed! Crazy youth) was a Japanese social experiment reality TV show which had its contestants, usually comedians looking to gain fame, complete outrageous challenges for money and prizes. Of the show’s many challenges, the one that is best known is the infamous Nasubi’s Prize Life Contest.
Nasubi, who at the time was an amateur comedian and university student, auditioned via a lottery against a room full of fellow aspiring comedians for the chance to participate in a yet to be announced TV program. Drawing the winning ticket, Nasubi wins the lottery and is chosen for the chance to be on TV. In what was believed to be preparation for the TV program, Nasubi was blindfolded and taken to a small room by the show’s producer. According to Tofugu “When the blindfold came off, he was in a small apartment room. Behind the camera, the show producer told him to take off his clothes, all of them, and hand them over. Only then, after he is naked and stranded, is Nasubi told what the show’s premise is: “Can a man live on winning sweepstakes alone?” He laughed, and the door was shut.” What Nasubi didn’t know was that he would be spending the next year and three months isolated from the outside world, competing for food, water, and clothing.
For 355 days, Nasubi was made to enter various magazine sweepstakes for basic necessities (including food), while cameras he thought were for documenting his experience, were actually broadcasting his naked struggle for survival to audiences across the nation. Though Nasubi was told that he could leave the apartment and end the game at any time, the comedian was determined to win.
To win the challenge and leave the apartment, Nasubi had to successfully survive off his sweepstakes winnings and accumulate a million yen (approximately 7,000 USD) worth of prizes. However, in another cruel twist, when Nasubi finally collected the required prize money after nearly a year and a half, he was forced to do it all again in a cramped apartment in South Korea, after being tricked into thinking he would be finally returning home.
In recent years, Nasubi’s story has become somewhat popular among users outside of Japan on online social media sites such as YouTube and Reddit. It seems that the strange, and somewhat sadistic circumstances of Nasubi’s time on the TV show continues to grab the attention of people decades after its airing.
The Fukushima Minyu Shimbun reported that a documentary film about the comedian, titled The Contestant, will have its world premiere at the 48th Toronto International Film Festival in Canada on September 8. In a comment made to the newspaper, Nasubi shared, “The film portrays my life, including the harsh experience of ‘Prize Contest Life,’ and how I am now involved in supporting the recovery of my hometown, Fukushima, after various twists and turns. Through this movie, I hope people around the world will focus on the current situation in Fukushima, and I would be delighted if my feelings for Fukushima were conveyed to the people in the prefecture. The production was temporarily halted during the COVID-19 pandemic, so it’s nothing short of a miracle that it’s now completed and premiering at an international film festival.”
The documentary, directed by Clair Titley, will cover the unbelievable happenings of the experiment, as well as include personal interviews with Nasubi and the reality TV show’s producer Toshio Tsuchiya.