The Contestant, making its world premiere on Friday on the Toronto International Film Festival, begins with this textual content on display screen: “At the top of the 20th century, Japanese audiences have been confronted with a rare tv occasion.”
The occasion in query was the premiere of a actuality TV sequence with an “entertaining” however finally merciless premise: Place a recreation present contestant in an excessive scenario and watch what occurs. An aspiring comic nicknamed Nasubi (the Japanese phrase for eggplant) gained an audition to be the centerpiece of the present.
“The setup was they put him on this residence with nothing within the room other than a pile of magazines… and a pile of postcards,” director Clair Titley explains. “They make him take off all his garments and he has to win all the things that he must survive by way of the competitions within the backs of magazines.”
That’s the place the postcards got here in – Nasubi wanted fill them out and mail them in hopes of profitable prizes.
“He was informed that he can be launched as soon as he’d gained 1 million Yen’s price of prizes [about $10,000 at the time],” Titley tells Deadline. “And then they shut the door and that’s it. And it’s a complete of 15 months that he’s in there.”
Nasubi managed to “win” lots of issues that proved ineffective below the circumstances – like a set of tires.
“He applies to win garments quite a few instances,” Titley says. “He wins some girls’s panties that don’t match him.”
Denpa Shōnen – My Life in Prizes, because the present was known as, was produced by a person named Toshio Tsuchiya. In the documentary he admits, “We [were] making an attempt to indicate probably the most fundamental primitive type of human being.”
The producer had solely knowledgeable Nasubi the present may air at a future date.
“They informed me it was a pilot,” Nasubi recollects. “I wasn’t certain that folks have been truly going to see me.”
Unbeknownst to Nasubi, episodes have been showing weekly on Nippon TV whereas he was in isolation and and not using a tv himself. The voyeuristic sequence turned a sensation, attracting tens of hundreds of thousands of viewers per episode. Studio hosts of the present gave working commentary on Nasubi whereas an enthusiastic viewers reacted to scenes exhibiting his predicament. Whenever he gained a prize and celebrated with a cheerful dance, they cheered.
But TV viewers weren’t seeing the fact of what Nasubi was experiencing daily.
“My Life in Prizes, that was very a lot merciless,” Nasubi tells Deadline. “The solely factor I might do is to jot down and mail in to win the sweepstakes. There is not any happiness of my life. There is not any freedom… But that was not edited into this system, that was not proven. Maybe three or 5 minutes every week out of my life [were shown]. And that was edited to focus on my happiness once I gained [a prize]. Of course, viewers would say, ‘Oh, see, he’s doing one thing enjoyable and one thing that he’s having fun with…’ But nearly all of my life was struggling.”
“He will get near hunger,” Titley notes. “He has to outlive on rice, pet food, no matter comes by way of the door, mainly.”
Eventually, his complete life was livestreamed – once more, with out his information. (To cowl his nudity, producers superimposed an eggplant picture over his non-public components; that is how the common emoji for male genitals turned an eggplant). There are apparent parallels to The Truman Show, the 1998 Jim Carrey film a couple of man who belatedly comes to comprehend his complete life is a actuality TV present.
“The Truman Show got here out whereas Nasubi was in the course of doing the present,” Titley says. “When Nasubi got here out of Denpa Shōnen, he truly ended up going to the cinema to see The Truman Show… He sat by himself within the cinema watching this movie with Jim Carrey and actually was type of trying round to see whether or not or not he was being filmed.”
Nasubi’s expertise evokes not solely ideas of The Truman Show, however different pop cultural mileposts, like The Hunger Games, Squid Game, and Castaway, the Tom Hanks film a couple of man stranded on a abandoned island. In that movie, Hanks’ character made a companion out of a volleyball he dubbed Wilson; Nasubi “befriended” stuffed animals to stave off the crushing lack of social contact.
Nasubi’s expertise additionally calls to thoughts the infamous Stanford Experiment of 1971, thought-about probably the most unethical psychological experiments ever performed. To discover energy dynamics, a gaggle of volunteers was divided into prisoners and jail guards, however the train turned grotesquely abusive. Not so completely different from what Nasubi’s went by way of.
“In the start, the individuals engaged on the tv present actually type of created all of the loneliness for me,” Nasubi says. “I actually felt cornered. And then I felt that’s actually scary, how people can try this to different individuals.”
As a boy in Fukushima, youngsters had mocked him for his elongated face (the eggplant nickname, which producers got here up with, was meant to explain his facial options). The present recapitulated the anguish of his childhood.
“The present was a type of leisure, however individuals have been actually laughing at me. So that was type of scary to me, one thing that’s scary about humankind,” Nasubi notes. “If persons are offered that that is one thing actually humorous, then individuals assume it’s humorous. I felt that brainwashing issue of it. So, there may be the potential worry of different individuals — that’s what I used to be feeling afterward. That was actually traumatic for me, and I used to be not in a position to talk with different individuals for a protracted whereas after the top of this system.”
The Contestant is an acquisition title at TIFF, with MRC dealing with gross sales. It premieres Friday afternoon, with encore screenings set for Saturday and Wednesday (the press and trade screening occurs Saturday morning). The Contestant is written and directed by Clair Titley, and produced by Ian Bonhôte, Megumi Inman, and Andee Ryder.
Nasubi didn’t go on to attain enormous success as a comic, one in every of his objectives for agreeing to do the present within the first place. But he achieved one thing higher, one may say – devoting himself to serving to others after the devastating 2011 earthquake and Tsunami in his hometown of Fukushima, and the horrible 2015 earthquake in Nepal that killed about 9,000 individuals.
“He’s actually humble,” Titley says, “and what he gained’t let you know is that he goes to again to Nepal yearly and provides these individuals cash. I imply, he’s a very humble man and he’s a superb soul.”
Some have described Nasubi as gullible for permitting himself to be taken benefit of by the producers of Denpa Shōnen. At age 48 now, he appears to have reached a stage of self-acceptance.
Nasubi says, “I’m an individual with the idea that I’d reasonably be tricked reasonably than turning into an individual to trick individuals.”