Despite the global popularity of the 1998 movie The Truman Show, it wok dapper that while the Japanese have no qualms over stealing a concept, but that they really didn't get that the movie was actually a tragedy of epic proportions for which there was no winner…
In case you live under a rock and have never seen The Truman Show, it revolves around a boy growing up on television - only he is the only one who has no clue that he is the subject of the television program and thus lives a completely fake life as his real life… until the tragic day he discovers the truth… that all the
world's a stage and (except for him) all the players merely actors.
It was truly a sad, evil look at the manipulations television will go to use people to further their own greedy interests. Which is one reason I completely dislike so-called 'reality tv'. Mostly because it is not based on reality (no one is playing games on a deserted island, living with a bunch of people who want to kill you or screw you and then talk about it to a camera, or race around the world in some freak orienteering game.
Now… Japan is Japan. I love the people I have met and gotten to know over there. I love the old social customs, the new social customs, the language (of which I understand very little), the epic history, the scenery (which includes the women), the life as an assistant English teacher on the JET (Japan Exchange & Teaching) Programme… and more.
But I did hate Japanese television. Yes… I loved the epic comedy of Shimura-ken… and tried not to miss an episode, as his comedy pretty much transcends language… but after that - and certainly between 1990-1993, Japan maintained an epic fail rate regarding television programming offering samurai drama after samurai drama (the Japanese equivalent of the Western, which excluding Firefly by Joss Wheedon, hasn't seen the light of day since Bonanza went off the air in 1973.), and some roughly 60 per cent of the programming revolving around food… which may have been the precursor of specialty food channels in North America a few years later.
Granted… I didn't see any reality television at the time… just useless variety shows, that again pretty much had already bit the dust by 1980 in North America... though Japan still has a love-affair with these variety programs.
Now… I had heard about some wacky Japanese programming whereby contestants are basically tortured for prizes, spoofed wonderfully on The Simpsons (good luck finding a clip on it, as the right's holders are as vicious as the one's parodied by themselves regarding the estate of Charlie Chaplin after Grandpa Simpson does a forked potato dance first seen in the classic silent flick, The Gold Rush), and on Supernatural with a parody known simply as "Nutcracker", which, unfortunately, is exactly what it seems.
Enter "Susunu! Denpa Shōnen"… which takes the made-up premise of The Truman Show and turns it into real-life reality television for eager Japanese audiences.
Back in 1998, a Japanese comedian known "Nasubi" or "Eggplant" (because of the shape of his head, I assume), but is in reality named Hamatsu Tomoaki (born on August 3, 1975) won a contest to participate in some showbiz-related job. Being a comedian, how could he lose?
But... unbeknownst to Nasubi, he was going to take part in Susunu! Denpa Shōnen, a Japanese reality television show that aired on on Nippon Television between January 1998—March 2002.
To reiterate, Nasubi had no clue what was going to happen.
Taken blindfolded to an apartment in Tokyo, Nasubi was asked to strip naked and then told that he would have to enter mail-in contests for however long it took for him to win ¥1-million (Cdn/US $10,000) in prize-value.
So… that sounds boring… what's so funny about this?
Now... they did tell him they would be filming him throughout this, as he obviously knows where the cameras are...
I'm not sure if it's funny, but curiously enough the show's producers did not leave him much food… meaning he would have to starve until he actually won a mail-in contest.
Wow, Japan. That's funny.
What show was on next? The Holocaust show where Jews are put into large rooms with a fake gas hissing into the room, to see what their reactions are - only, get this, the gas really is poison.
Seriously. WTF Japan? If this was war, you guys would be breaking every frickin' law of the Geneva Convention.
It makes one think, that if you could starve a man for entertainment, just what would you do in a war when scientific experiments are "important" to someone somewhere?
Let's take a look at the first episode on YouTube. It's all in Japanese, but with my description, you should have a pretty good idea of what is going on.
It's not so bad. But that's only because the guy hasn't begun to starve yet. I'm unsure if water was provided, but there is water in the toilet… but they wouldn't make him drink out of there like some shameful enemy dog of the Japanese Empire? Would they?
So… Nasubi is locked in the apartment, stripped naked, cut off from all forms of outside communication (like TV or newspapers), and only had racks of magazines to entertain him… and he had to go through them to enter contests…. contests he had to win in order to get food, and a ticket to freedom. Oh… and of course, he had no idea that he was on television… it kind of all sounds like quite the elaborate trick someone could do to kidnap and torture someone…
I have no idea if Nasubi tried to or not, but I would be pulling my own version of Cool Hand Luke and trying to escape to banging on the pipes on the washroom, smashing a window or wall with the table or magazine racks - something.
I'd probably also be doing a lot of masturbation, but that's just me when I'm bored. Or not bored.
Nasubi was also allotted a table, a cushion, a small radio, and some pens… though no paper.
I will assume that no matter what contest he entered, Nasubi would win… or at least win something… I mean… there was no guarantee that he would win that all important first contest.
As such… two-weeks later after entering his prison and not having any food to eat, he apparently won some jelly in a magazine contest.
WTF contest gives jelly as a prize? Thank god someone did, or Nasubi would surely be dead. Anyhow, that jelly had a value of ¥1,560, leaving him with 'only' ¥998,440 more to win.
Other prizes won by Nasubi includes a five-kilogram bag of delicious Japanese rice… but if you'll recall the items left in the apartment—there was no way to cook the rice!
Here's some food, boy. Too bad there's no way to cook it!
But… Eggplant or not, Nasubi used a cup of water, placed some rice in there and then cooked it atop a heater… he ate about a half a cup a day using two pens as chopsticks...
He also won a television, but true to form, the television was unable to pick up any stations owing to a lack of a cable or antenna.
Later, Nasubi won a VCR… and luckily or not… he has two video tapes: one a cycling video, and the other an exercise video.
Although Nasubi seems to have had it pretty rough, perhaps the most endearing thing about this stupid program was to see that Nasubi seemed quite cheerful.
One of the things I learned in Japan was that the ability to not show weakness in the face of adversity is a trait well respected by the Japanese, and may have helped propel the program's popularity.
So... Nasubi had to win magazine contests... and did so by sending out between 3,000 to 8,000 postcards a month.
After a couple of months, though, Nasubi had only won ¥66,840-worth of prizes, and yet... every time he won something, he would dance and make-up a stupid little song about the prize he had just won explaining in it how happy he was.
Dancing while naked, by the way.
For fun, or to prevent audiences from see Eggplant's meat and two veg, the producers added a cartoon eggplant atop the film to cover up the naughty bits.
Here's a synopsis:
- May - Doctor visits Nasubi and find him in perfect health. Skinnier than before, long finger and toe nails, but healthy. Later that month his rice ran out... and he pathetically began praying for more rice.
- June - That damn media had discovered where he was being held. In the middle of the night a producer came with a flashlight, awakened him, blindfolded him and moved him to another apartment. They said it was to 'change his luck'. But the movers forgot to bring along some of his food (more rice), and Nasubi became angry: "How could you forget my rice? How could you? Don't you know how important my rice is?"
- July - his total was now ¥550,000 - more than half way to buying his freedom. The producers then set up a live Internet feed, with a staff of 50 to ensure his private parts were always covered with that cartoon eggplant.
- August - two weeks without winning a contest.
- September - the contests he did win were small, taking in about ¥10,000 only. But, as a reward, the producers/wardens let him out of the apartment - to go to the beach. Naked.
- October - another apartment move. He also won a VCR, which allowed him to watch the two videos he had previously won (remember - no cable for the TV!. On the video, he saw his first woman in 10 months. I'll assume it was the exercise video.
- November - he won two rolls of toilet paper. No sh!t. He also won a Sony Play Station which he used to play a previously won train driving game. He spent three solid days on it before getting back to work on the contests.
- December - he won another bag of rice, which put him just over the ¥1,000,000 mark he needed to gain his freedom. But, he was not aware of this, and continued to enter the magazine contests. But, later that night a producer woke him up in the middle of the night with some Christmas crackers. He did not offer Nasubi any congratulations, and refused to answer any of his questions... but he did continue with the Christmas crackers... which led Nasubi to finally deduce that he had won the ¥1,000,000 challenge.
You would think that would be it, right? I did say this was a 15-month ordeal, and Nasubi has so far only done 12... and besides... this is Japanese television... and it is twisted.
They did give him back his clothes, gave him some ramen noodles and took him out to an amusement park and then flown to South Korea to eat his favorite food, Korean barbecue.
Sated and rested, Nasubi was left alone in a room again... with more Japanese magazines on a rack... but now he was in South Korea... and he didn't know the language. Not that it mattered.
He now had to earn enough magazine contests to earn the value of a plane ticket back to Japan, which was about US/Cdn $400.
But, taking the fun out of things, Nasubi did this rather quickly, winning a television, some expensive food and other prizes.
Don't screw with the warden, however. The producers then decided - because they were making too much money off Nasubi - that the boy would have to earn first a business class ticket (done easily) and then a first-class ticket.
After achieving this rather quickly, Nasubi was finally flown back to Japan.
Nasubi's ordeal lasted 15 months in that little apartment, with what can only be described as a failure to communicate.
15 months! Who can I sue? They starved Nasubi. Humiliated Nasubi. Profited heavily off Nasubi. And… sadly enough… Japanese television audiences watched his humiliating ordeal with joyful abandon.
Initially, Nasubi seems to be in good spirits... but 15 months of isolation can take its toll on a person - far worse than any homesickness an AET might feel in Japan... because at least you can see and talk to other people and feel the heat of the sun on your skin. It really was worse than prison.
And yet... we are still not done.
The producers led Nasubi to another room... and left him there for a short while.
Because for the past 15 months he had pretty much lived in the nude, Nasubi, out of force of habit, removed his clothing.
And then comes the reveal... which involves the ceiling lifting off and the walls of the room falling away thus revealing Nasubi naked and in front of 1,000 screaming people part of a television studio audience. With much laughter at his discomfort.
The hosts of Susunu! Denpa Shōnen then told Nasubi the truth over what they had all put him through these past 15 months.
They did note, however, that the diary Nasubi had been keeping was now a #1 Bestseller book, grossing hundreds of thousands of yen... which isn't really that much.
But he did gain some good coin when they had filmed him eating that last bowl of ramen noodles, the footage of which was sold to become a very popular television commercial.
From what I have been able to piece together from various sites, here are some of the magazine contests Nasubi won:
- two vacuums
- rice (4x, 35 kg total);
- a watermelon
- cutlery set
- ice cream
- natto (2x)
- a globe
- stuffed animals
- dental care products
- pickled egg plant
- a poster of actress Hirosue Ryoko
- free tickets to the Spice Girls movie (yay?)
- a coupon for a free English lesson (2x) - I will give Nasubi free English lessons if he puts on some pants
- a CD ROM??
- huge box of potato chips
- duck meat
- a barbecue
- Japanese snacks
- a belt
- sexy women's underwear (he did try to wear them, but it wouldn't fit - thank god)
- Matsutake mushrooms
- a tent
- attache case
- car tires (4)
- photo book
- golf balls
And... if that wasn't all bad enough for Nasubi who was trying to become famous as a comedian, he never achieved any great success after that on television. Give us reality or give us failure, I suppose.
But... while we can all feel a bit of sadness (I hope) at what fate and Japanese television has thrown-up onto ole Nasubi, he has found a bit of success... going back to Fukushima-ken (where he's from) and became a
dramatic stage actor, founding the stage troupe "Eggplant Way" performing all over Japan. He has also starred in Densha Otoko, Trick, Atashinchi no Danshi, and recently portrayed the character Watcherman in Kamen Rider W.
I have no idea if that is success or not, but I can only hope that after 15 months locked in an apartment forced to labor to buy his freedom from his Japanese wardens, that he was paid a lot of money for his troubles.