‘The Contestant’: Traumatic Isolation Played for Laughs

Naked, alone in a tiny room in Japan, Nasubi had one way to survive: submit entries for sweepstakes.

For 15 months beginning in 1998, Nasubi lived in isolation, entering sweepstakes to win food, clothing and other items, while his movements were captured on camera for the wildly popular Japanese reality TV show, “Susunu! Denpa Shonen.”

A 22-year-old aspiring comedian, Nasubi had willingly entered this reality TV challenge, a segment titled “A Life in Prizes,” thinking that footage would be recorded and possibly aired after it was over. In actuality, he was being broadcast to millions of viewers across Japan every week.

Nasubi’s ordeal, and the mental and emotional damage it inflicted on him, are the focus of a new documentary, “The Contestant,” which was first shown at the Toronto International Film Festival and is now streaming on Hulu.

Directed by Clair Titley and produced by Megumi Inman, “The Contestant” draws on interviews with Nasubi and his mother, sister and friend, as well as with Toshio Tsuchiya, the producer of “Susunu! Denpa Shonen.” Nasubi’s full name is Tomoaki Hamatsu, but he was nicknamed Nasubi, which means “eggplant” in Japanese, because of his long, angular face.

Nasubi was damaged emotionally by his time on the show, but “I realized my past struggle could be something useful,” he said.Credit…David Benthal/BFA, via Hulu
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