Tomaki "Nasubi" Hamatsu in 'The Contestant'

‘The Contestant’ Trailer: Hulu Doc Explores a Wildly Unethical Reality Show Experiment

Hulu has released a trailer for the upcoming documentary The Contestant, which revisits a totally unhinged Japanese reality show from the late ’90s.

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In 1998, before reality mania swept the U.S., a Japanese TV show tested the limits of ethics in media and entertainment. The Contestant, a new Hulu documentary from director Claire Titley, examines the reality competition series (Susunu! Denpa Shōnen) and its most famous contestant, Tomoaki Hamatsu.

Described as “one of the most WTF stories of the year,” The Contestant explores how a producer lured Hamatsu, an aspiring comedian, to participate in a contest that required him to live in a single room, without clothing or contact with the outside world, for more than a year. In order to get food and other necessities, Hamatsu had to fill out magazine sweepstakes forms. He also had no idea that he was being filmed and that the footage was being broadcast on Japanese television.

Here’s the full synopsis from Hulu:

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.

The Contestant premieres May 2 on Hulu.

(featured image: Hulu)


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Britt Hayes
Britt Hayes (she/her) is an editor, writer, and recovering film critic with over a decade of experience. She has written for The A.V. Club, Birth.Movies.Death, and The Austin Chronicle, and is the former associate editor for ScreenCrush. Britt's work has also been published in Fangoria, TV Guide, and SXSWorld Magazine. She loves film, horror, exhaustively analyzing a theme, and casually dissociating. Her brain is a cursed tomb of pop culture knowledge.