Nasubi, how a reality show drove a man insane and became the most-watched TV show in Japan's history.
When MTV first aired MTV's Real World, producers could probably never have predicted how much of an impact they would have on the TV industry. Since the early 1980s, TV networks have produced countless reality TV shows that pushed the limits of human nature. For example, who could have ever predicted Big Brother would be such a big hit in the United States and across the world. But, there is one reality TV show that pushed limits of not only television but also limits of human decency. The Japanese reality show Susunu! Denpa Shōnen, which aired from 1998 to 2002, was one of the craziest and wildest reality shows in history. Susunu! Denpa Shōnen had reality show contestants starve, get sexually assaulted and ultimately go crazy.
Susunu! Denpa Shōnen - Japanese Torture Reality Series
The show is known for the extreme situations the participants were placed in. The show would end up getting high ratings, and spawned several spin offs. The show was controversial due to the number of sadistic challenges the producers would put in place. In fact, if a participant was doing too well, producers would often change the rules to make their lives even harder. The participants were typically unknown comedians who were ready to do anything to get famous. Upon application, they were chosen randomly, and were not told what the objective of their challenge was. Some of the challengers ended up becoming famous, while many became relatively unknown.
One of the most popular contestants on the reality series was Tomoaki Hamatsu also known as Nasubi, or Eggplant.
Who is Nasubi?
Nasubi was a Japanese comedian who was challenged to stay alone unclothed in an apartment, after winning a lottery for a "show business related job". He was chllenged to enter mail-in sweepstakes until he won ¥1 million (about US$10,000) in total.
What happened to Nasubi?
Nasubi started with nothing. That means no clothes, food, or any form of outside communication, and had nothing to keep him company except the magazines he went through for sweepstakes entry forms. In addition, he had no idea he was being recorded and rebroadcasted on live television. After spending nearly a year to reach his target, he set the Guinness world record for the "longest time survived on competition winnings" Nasubi lived in front of the camera, with the only possession he won from the sweepstakes, and the stacks of postcards for entering the sweepstakes. But, because producers never gave him any clothes, an eggplant cartoon graphic covered his genitals when Nasubi was standing on camera. Nasubi thought he was being recorded and what he did would be rebroadcasted later on. But in actuality he was on livestream video with the highlights re-broadcasted every week with highlights and sound effects of everything he did. At first he received no food at all, only able to drink water. He later lost several pounds. Eventually he won some sugary drinks from his sweepstakes entries, then a bag of rice. And eventually he survived for weeks on dog food he won. He never won clothing he could wear and he held long conversations with a stuff animal he considered his teacher or sensei. After reaching his goal, he was blindfolded, clothed and taken to a new location. Nasubi was happy believing he was going to get a special prize for surviving for a year. After the unblindfolded him, he found himself in South Korea, where he was shown around town and taken to another apartment. He was once again asked to take off his clothes and challenged to enter more sweepstakes. This time he would have to win enough winnings to get a flight home back to Japan. When he won enough to return to Japan, he was blindfolded, clothed and taken to another apartment in Japan. When he was undblindfolded, he looked around, and undressed himself; showing how he became used to the producers' torture. But, at the last minute the walls of the apartment fell away to reveal he was in a TV studio with a huge live audience. He couldn't understand what happened to him because he thought the show had not aired yet.
So what happened to Nasubi?
The entire ordeal lasted 15 months, during which time his diaries were published and became a best seller in Japan, and the TV show broke records with 17 million viewers each Sunday night. For a comparison, that is nearly double the ratings for Game of Thrones. Nasubi reported being sweaty and hot in clothes after going through this reality show, and for the first six months he had hard time communicating with other people. Following the show Nasbui was unable to land another show and since then he has been working as a D-list actor in small stage plays. Since then the Nasubi reports that he is grateful for his experience and the producer apologized to him. Despite the producer revealing he has no regrets and does not apologize for creating the show. He argues that his goal is to produce miracles on film, and with Nasubi that is what just happened.
Other tortured reality show participants.
You would think that after Nasubi, producers would know when to pull the plug. That is not the case. There was Denpa Shōnen teki Mujinto Dasshutsu, where two people are put on a deserted island and the only way to survive is by building a raft to Japan. Then there was Denpa Shōnen teki Africa Europa Tairiku Odan Hitchhike no tabi, where participants were forced to hitchhike from South Africa to Norway. The contestant would end up nearly dying from dehydration. Denpa Shōnen teki Pennant Race, was the final show before the series was cancelled. The contestants would be confied to a single room with a TV that showed baseball fans team's baseball games. Their faces would also be hidden from public view. If their team won, they got to eat dinner and a small part of their face would be revealed to the audience. If their team lost, tehy would get no food and the lights would be turned off, leaving them in darkness until the next day's game. If the contestant's favorite team went on a win streak, then the participants would receive better food and gain more public exposure. A losing streak would mean contestants would go weeks without food or light. at the end of the season, the contestant would win the overall prize depending upon on how well their team placed.
So what happened to tortured Japanese reality shows?
In the landscape of television, no country has a history quite as unique as Japan. A significant part of this legacy is the era of Japanese torture reality shows, a trend that left an indelible mark on the industry. The popularity of these programs peaked in the 80s and 90s, but recent years have seen a noticeable shift away from this controversial format. Let's take a look at what happened to these peculiar shows.
Japanese torture reality shows were famous for their outrageous stunts and grueling physical trials. Shows such as "Za Gaman" and "Endurance" gained a cult following for their extreme challenges, which tested participants' physical and mental fortitude to the limits. Participants were often subjected to harsh conditions and stressful tasks, all designed to entertain the audience through the sheer absurdity and audacity of the scenarios.
However, the popularity of these shows waned due to increasing public disapproval and regulatory scrutiny. The cultural shift towards prioritizing participant's safety and emotional well-being became a key factor in reshaping the future of Japanese reality TV.
The Japanese Broadcast Ethics & Program Improvement Organization (BPO) has played a significant role in enforcing stricter guidelines on reality TV content, particularly on shows with degrading or harmful elements. This increased regulation has resulted in a notable decrease in the number of such extreme reality shows.
The decline of Japanese torture reality shows was also driven by changes in viewership. Audiences gradually started to favor programs that highlighted human resilience, kindness, and perseverance, rather than physical endurance and humiliation. Shows like "Terrace House" with its focus on interpersonal relationships, have emerged as favorites, signifying a new trend in Japanese television.
However, the impact of torture reality shows on Japanese pop culture cannot be understated. These shows helped shape Japan's reputation as a producer of some of the world's most eccentric television content. Despite their decline, they remain a fascinating chapter in the country's entertainment history, serving as a testament to the ever-evolving nature of audience preferences and broadcasting standards.
While Japanese torture reality shows may have disappeared from the mainstream, their influence is still felt in the more audacious corners of the industry. The shift in viewer preferences and tighter regulations ensure that, although their spirit may occasionally flicker, the age of these shows is largely behind us.
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