This true story of a Japanese reality TV star left naked in a room for more than a year, tasked with filling out magazine sweepstakes to earn food and clothing, prompts innumerable questions about our culture of oversharing.
Before the onslaught of reality television in the West, there was an ominous harbinger in Japan of what was to come in our oversharing-obsessed culture. The Contestant traces the experience of aspiring comedian Tomoaki Hamatsu, nicknamed Nasubi, who unwittingly became an extreme case study.
In 1998, Nasubi thought he was attending an audition when a successful Japanese TV producer, Toshio Tsuchiya, enlisted him to take part in a challenge. Tsuchiya led Nasubi into a room, ordered him to strip naked and left him with a stack of magazines. Nasubi’s task was to fill out contest coupons in order to win what he needed to survive — food, clothing, appliances, etc. — until he reached the prize goal of one million yen.
Although Nasubi could have left at any time, he stayed for months with a fierce determination to complete his mission. He was cut off from all contact with his family and the world except for occasional interactions with Tsuchiya.
What Nasubi didn’t realize was that his experiences were being broadcast to over 15 million people in a TV show called Denpa Shonen: A Life in Prizes. Without his knowledge or consent, Nasubi became the most famous television personality in Japan.
While parts of Nasubi’s infamy have been recounted before on YouTube and This American Life, director Clair Titley and producer Megumi Inman bring a revelatory depth of insight by interviewing Nasubi, Tsuchiya, and others close to them. The filmmakers explore further twists in Nasubi’s life after Denpa Shonen to deliver the most WTF story in this year’s documentary selection.
Official Selection, 2023 Toronto International Film Festival