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Psychological torture makes for good TV: Japan’s demented real-life ‘Truman Show’
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Japanese TV
Psychological torture makes for good TV: Japan’s demented real-life ‘Truman Show’

Even for a culture well-known for its sadistic game shows, Japan’s Susunu! Denpa Shōnen (進ぬ!電波少年) still stands out. The producers of this “torture”-themed reality series, which ran from 1998 to 2002, took things so far that the government actually stepped in and cancelled it. Despite this, or perhaps because of it, the program remains an iconic part of Japanese television history.

“Denpa Shōnen teki Kenshō Seikatsu” (“a life out of prizes”) was the best known segment of the show. Think of it as the naked, solitary confinement version of Big Brother. In it, Nasubi, an aspiring Japanese comedian—who it should be noted, auditioned for and agreed to this—was forced to live in a studio apartment, unclothed, with no supplies for a year and a half. Nasubi’s genitals were covered with a digital eggplant, a reference to his nickname for his elongated face.

He was provided with a radio, phone, sink, shower, toilet, gas burner, a small table and one cushion. He was also given a rack of magazines and a stack of stamped postcards so that he could enter commercial sweepstakes to get things that he needed. Like food. And toilet paper, which he didn’t win until about ten months in! He had to win anything he used or ate (the crew probably provided him with food, but not much, apparently). Once he’d “won” ¥1 million (about $10,000) in prizes he’d be able to leave his imprisonment and they would edit together a segment about his experience and call it “Sweepstakes Life.”

All he was offered, in exchange, was a chance at fame.

What Nasubi didn’t realize is that segments were going out weekly to a large television audience. At some point, the producers set up a live video feed that meant fans could watch Nasubi 24 hours a day.

When interest in Nasubi became so great that his location was discovered by reporters, the producers more or less kidnapped him and took to him a second location in South Korea! This time he had to raise the money to get back home. While all of this was going on his diaries about his experience of being locked away from the outside world became a bestselling book. Footage of him eating a bowl of ramen noodles was turned into a popular soup commercial. Without knowing any of it, he’d become rich and famous.

Although Nasubi admitted that at certain points he wanted to escape and feared that he was going bonkers, he never really addressed WHY the hell he’d do something like this for so long. I mean, wouldn’t any sane person say “Fuck this” after a couple of weeks without toilet paper?

Ironically Nasubi’s national fame was short-lived, although his segment on the show is fondly recalled.


Posted by Richard Metzger
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