The Totally Insane Japanese Truman Show

“Somebody help me, I’m being spontaneous!” —Truman Burbank, The Truman Show (1998)

In A Nutshell

His name was Nasubi, and he was hungry, naked, and slowly losing his mind. He was also being watched by 16 million people. You see, Nasubi was the star of Japanese TV show, and he was living inside an empty apartment, completely alone and surviving only on sweepstakes prizes, all for a shot at fame.

The Whole Bushel

What’s the worst reality TV show of all time? Bridalplasty? Jersey Shore? Keeping Up with the Kardashians? True, these programs are all mind-numbingly awful, but at least nobody gets tortured . . . well, not the cast anyway.

Susunu! Denpa Shonen was a totally different story. Premiering in 1998, this Japanese show put would-be comedians in some pretty horrible situations. One contestant was beaten up while handing out condoms in a gay bar, and one nearly died of dehydration while hitchhiking across Africa . . . all while the cameramen stood by and did nothing. Susunu! Denpa Shonen was actually so bad that the government shut it down in 2002.

But the most infamous segment of Susunu! Denpa Shonen featured a 22-year-old comedian nicknamed Nasbui. His moniker meant “eggplant,” a reference to his long face, and he was hoping the show would kick-start his comic career. After he auditioned, producers said he’d appear on a segment that might or might not air, but if it ever reached the airwaves, Nasubi would become a star. The young man was then blindfolded and taken to a room that was empty aside from a radio, a gas burner, and a coffee table. There was essential plumbing, a small cushion, and strangely enough, piles of magazines. Other than that, the room was bare.

That’s when producers told Nasubi to strip. Confused, he took off every last stitch of clothing and covered his privates with the cushion. That’s when producers explained he was in a contest called “Sweepstakes Life.” If he wanted clothes, food, or anything at all, he’d have to win his supplies by entering sweepstakes. That’s why there were so many magazines. Once he reached $10,000 worth of prizes, he could leave his cell and start life as a celebrity. Until then, he had to stay in the room, cut off from the world, living on only what he won. And oh yeah, he had to keep changing the tapes in that video camera . . . the tapes that might show up on TV someday.

Wearing nothing but his birthday suit, Nasubi got to work, filling out postcards and entering nearly 300 contests a day. Of course, it takes a while to win a sweepstakes, and soon, Nasubi was losing a lot of weight. Thankfully, the crew gave him a little bread and water, but when he finally won a few sodas two weeks in, the free food stopped. Four weeks later, he won a bag of rice, but since he didn’t have a pot, he had to cook his food in a soda can. He also won crazy prizes like Spice Girls tickets and a TV (which was worthless without cable). And he never won any clothing that fit, so he was naked the whole entire time.

How long did the contest last? Well, Nasubi was shut up in that room for nearly a year, and it took him 10 months to win any toilet paper. As you might expect, the isolation took a toll on Nasubi, and soon he stopped grooming and started taking advice from toys he’d won. The solitary confinement was driving him nuts, but if he could hold out for just a little longer, he might be famous someday.

What Nasubi didn’t know is that he was already famous. The producers had lied. His crazy antics were already all over the TV, and 16 million people were watching him run around naked, barely making it on rice, and occasionally dancing like nobody was looking. Of course, producers covered up Nasubi’s groin with an illustrated eggplant, and the show was enhanced with silly sound effects and bizarre graphics. Strangely, the show was so popular that Nasubi was already popping up in commercials and on magazines. People watched him on a 24-hour live feed and read his diaries which producers had published. Nasubi’s entire life was on display.

Once Nasubi reached his $10,000 goal, the producers gave him clothes and flew him to South Korea where he spent the day enjoying the scenery. But that night, they stuck him in a Korean apartment that looked just like his old one. They ordered him to strip and said if he wanted a plane ticket back to Japan, he had to play the game all over again. Frustrated and tired, Nasubi obeyed and spent four months in Korea, living off only what he won in magazines. When the show was finally over, the producers took him back to the Land of the Rising Sun . . . and stuck him in another cell.

Assuming he had to play another round, Nasubi took off his clothes, and that’s when the walls fell down. Suddenly, he found himself surrounded by an audience laughing, clapping, and cheering. That’s when the hosts of Susunu! Denpa Shonen informed the bewildered comedian that he was already a star, and he’d won the game. Of course, the price of glory is pretty steep. Nasubi had trouble talking and wearing clothes for a long time. Even worse, his comedy career never went anywhere. But what’s really weird about the whole thing is that Nasubi could’ve left the room whenever he wanted. The door wasn’t locked. When asked why he stayed, Nasubi simply replied, “I said I’d do it, and I do what I say.” He also says it’s given him a better outlook on life. Whenever something bad happens and life seems miserable, he simply reminds himself that at least he’s not back in that room.

Show Me The Proof

Dangerous Minds: Psychological Torture Makes For Good TV
This American Life: Human Spectacle

  • This is so odd, it physically hurts to read about it

    • lonelydisco

      Did it hurt your eggplant?

      • It seriously untuned my aubergine …

        • lonelydisco

          Oh no! Your fancy, hipster guitar!

  • lonelydisco

    Disturbing, truly disturbing. I’m starting to realize that Japanese entertainment isn’t simply playing its stereotyped image as crazy, but that it is genuinely insane.

    Seriously, how was this not reported?

    • Perhaps, since he wasn’t physically locked in, there was nothing to report. They could easily have made the case that Nasubi was a volunteer.

      • lonelydisco

        That’s what the article said, but still, it’s a completely different culture than the ones I’m used to.

        • yes, but having worked in Hollywood, with both models and actors, I do understand the mentality of agreeing to do what seems to outsiders to be extremely unpleasant circumstances on the chance it will lead to stardom. No one forces these people to do what they do, it’s insane to most of us, but to them it’s the very stuff of life.
          ~shrug~
          Whatever floats your boat.

          • lonelydisco

            Apparently, you talk about your Hollywood past on occasion.

            That means shots shots shots!

          • I was a script supervisor. Fun.

          • lonelydisco

            It does sound fun. Really, it does.

          • It was fun. You’re working with the director at all times, right up at the front of the action. You get to meet all the actors, work closely with all the various departments on set.
            The responsibilities are enormous. If the script supervisor screws up everybody, from the director to the crew to the cast to the audience, knows it, can see it, can laugh at you for being such a huge screw-up. Thankfully, I never did screw up because I was fanatic about documenting everything, so even if we shot different parts of a scene days apart I knew every detail of the scene and could help reproduce it. You see examples of bad supervising in movies and commercials all the time, though.
            The hours are insane. A 17 hour day was considered normal, and 20 hours not terribly uncommon. The longest day I ever pulled was 26 hours.
            I wouldn’t go back and trade what I did for anything.

          • lonelydisco

            Doesn’t sound very glamorous, doesn’t it?

          • It’s not glamorous, it’s damned hard work,in fact, but it was a wonderful career. It allowed me to meet fascinating (and sometimes weird) people, to travel widely on someone else’s dime, to experience interesting things. It was also great when the kids were young because it allowed me to work a lot when they were in school and, having put aside enough, to take off time when they were on vacations.

          • lonelydisco

            Well, was there some glamour?

          • Depends on your definition of glamour, I suppose 😉

          • lonelydisco

            Mine is power walking on Fridays after sipping on some good iced tea. What’s yours?

  • Nathaniel A.

    There are some similarities between this show and one that premiered earlier in the summer. The two are both built on the premise that people will do anything to become famous. They then diverged wildly….

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Famous_in_12

  • Check

    I really felt bad for this guy back when I first learned about this. What a horrible thing to happen to you.

  • Lisa 39

    This is a truly horrible thing to do to a person, it might have been funny and interesting for one month but after that it just became cruel.

    • lonelydisco

      A month?! I can’t stand being conscious, not moving for eight hours!

      • Lisa 39

        I know what you mean, I wouldn’t have lasted a week like that. I might have actually crossed the line to really crazy in that situation.

        • lonelydisco

          I would’ve started chanting.

          “Vunde gurunam caranaravinde
          Sandarsita svatma sukhavabodhe
          Nihsreyase jangalikayamane
          Sansara halahala moha santyai
          Hala hala
          Ahahu purusakaram sankha cakrasi
          Ahahu purusakaram sankha cakrasi
          Dharinam dharinam sahasra sirasam
          Dharinam dharinam sahasra sirasam
          Vande
          Macarena!

          Om Shanti, Om Shanti
          Shanti shanti
          Shantay Om”

          • Lisa 39

            That’s beautiful LD, I have no idea what it means but it looks like it would sound pretty! I’d start singing to keep myself sane, every song I know, that would keep me busy for a while!

          • lonelydisco

            Pronounce the “c”‘s as “ch”, some of the middle “s”‘s as “sh”, “Dh” as “t”, and “sra” as “stra”.

            Remember, Sanskrit is the other basis for some English … though it is nothing like it.

          • Lisa 39

            LD, I’m sick and have a horrible headache, translating is to much like work, I’ll try again when I feel better 🙂

          • lonelydisco

            I’d have soup after that headache passes!

          • Lisa 39

            Thanks LD, I’ll get one of the kids to run to the store for some soup, oooh new england clam chowder sounds yummy!

          • What you have to do, Lisa, is make your soup from scratch. Make huge batches and then divide it up into whatever size servings work for your family and freeze. Homemade soup is so much better than canned or dry soup mix that it seems a whole different food.

          • Lisa 39

            I agree and I do that, I have a huge pot, I call it my cauldron, I make enough soup for 5 or 6 meals and freeze them but they’re all gone 🙁

          • I’m sorry! I have some beautiful split pea with ham hock and veggies in the freezer.

          • Lisa 39

            I’ll be over shortly!

          • Bring your jammies, it’s a long drive and I have an extra bedroom!

          • oouchan

            Sorry sweetie…huggles!

          • Lisa 39

            Thanks Chicky, its a head cold and sore throat, I’ll be OK in a day or two, LD said I need soup, I love him!

          • lonelydisco

            It’s not a special case that I recommended soup. I do that all the time!

            Hungry? Soup. Sick? Soup. Rainy? Soup. Cold? Soup. Hot? Cold soup. Warm? Just soup. Itchy? Soup. Bored? Make soup. Cancer? Soup. Soup? Soup.

          • Lisa 39

            Well I did feel special for a minute, I still love you LD 😉

          • lonelydisco

            You’re far too kind! I almost wrote “you’re fat”! Almost-whoops!

          • Lisa 39

            That would have made me cry, I’m glad you caught that 😉

          • lonelydisco

            You have fat cancer?! Soup.

          • Lisa 39

            OK LD, thank you lol

          • lonelydisco

            I ain’t givin’ you soup!

          • Lisa 39

            What the hell LD, I thought you were coming over to make some, now I have to drag my sick self to the kitchen and make my own soup, I’ll just lay here and be hungry :'(

          • lonelydisco

            Hey! That’s what I do!

          • Lisa 39

            I would make you some soup 😉

          • lonelydisco

            Nah – I can make some myself. If not, then …. http://www.theramenrater.com/

          • Lisa 39

            I didn’t know they had such a variety, my kids love the chicken ramies, I love the maruchan shrimp cup of soup, I thaw out salad shrimp to add to mine. You shouldn’t pass up my homemade chicken soup tho, its yummy!

          • lonelydisco

            I rarely pass on soup – I’m dry for the most part!

          • Lisa 39

            Next time I make a pot I’ll bring some over!

          • lonelydisco

            Wonderful! I’ll be in 1964 on Tuesday!

          • Soup?
            Soup sounds delicious!
            Everything sounds delicious.

          • lonelydisco

            You can’t even have soup?

          • Well, I’m allowed soup, of course, but nothing! not even soup, is agreeing with me. I’ve lost 20+ pounds in 33 days.

          • lonelydisco

            Can it have fat or starch in it?

          • No fat.

          • lonelydisco

            Starch?

          • starch is okay.
            I actually ate half an English muffin today and an over easy egg. It was scary, though.

          • lonelydisco

            Well, how was it?

          • It was the most amazingly delicious thing I have ever eaten…but…I later regretted it. After discussing the result with my husband we decided it was just too much food at once. I might have gotten away with just the egg, or just the half muffin…or half the egg or a quarter muffin. Gotta start slow. :-/

          • Hiba199

            is this song from Om shanti Om? because that movie is awesome…

          • lonelydisco

            No – I don’t remember!

        • Nomsheep

          I would have tried the door.

          • Lisa 39

            That’s a very good choice nom, I wouldn’t have done it at all, I could sit my dressed and fed ass at home and filled out sweepstakes crap.

    • Nathaniel A.

      This was completely voluntary.

      “Nasubi could’ve left the room whenever he wanted. The door wasn’t locked.”

      • Lisa 39

        Yes, you are right about that BUT desperate people are desperate and those people knew it and took advantage of him. Never forget Nathaniel, that people really can be stupid sheep if there’s a glimmer of hope for an answer to their problems, and there will always be assholes to take advantage of people and their hope.

  • Hillyard

    Japan the land of the rising weird.

    • lonelydisco

      It’s been rising since Godzilla.

  • Clyde Barrow

    Man, those producers were bastards.

    • TheMadHatter

      No need to talk about their mothers 🙁

  • Joseph Wilson

    Can we do this to the god-awful Kardashians??

    • lonelydisco

      Let’s rename some hot guy Kardashian, and stick him in a room with them for 2 weeks!

      • Joseph Wilson

        Why not a female? Are you sexist? ;p

        • lonelydisco

          Let’s do both!

          • Joseph Wilson

            Now you are talking! I like the way you think!

          • lonelydisco

            Feeling’s not quite mutual!

  • Jon

    His line “Atleast i’m not back in that room” reminds me of the movie 1408.

  • jahangir khan