Friday, 6 November 2015

06/11/15 - Nasubi

The cult of reality TV appears to have reached some kind of zenith in 2015. While the notion of watching ‘real’ people on television doing everyday things (or things that they’ve never tried before but might be good at) can’t really be considered a new phenomenon, the concept of ‘scripted reality’ - i.e. TOWIE, Made in Chelsea, etc - is seeping inexorably into the everyday, and we’re not far off the tipping point whereby there are more reality shows on TV than anything else. Alan Partridge’s nonsense show pitches – Monkey Tennis, Cooking in Prison, Youth Hostelling with Chris Eubank, and so on – are actually coming true, one by one.

But for the really bonkers, out-there reality stuff, us Brits are nowhere near the true greatness and potential of the medium. Sure, our plucky contestants can sing or train dogs to dance or bake muffins or eat grubs, but if you want true reality drama, you need to look to Japan for inspiration. Why not take Nasubi as a starting point?

For those of you whose Japanese is a bit rusty, ‘Nasubi’ means ‘aubergine’. The significance of this will become clear. The name of the reality show in question is Susunu! Denpa Shōnen, and this aired from 1998-2002. It gained huge ratings from its extreme and sadistic treatment of its contestants, particularly if they were deemed to be doing too well at whatever challenge they were given. Participants were generally little-known comedians who wanted to use the show to springboard their careers into the big leagues, and they were made to do some really horrible things. One challenge, for example, saw two contestants being dropped on a desert island with no supplies or information about where they were, being told that their only way out was to build a raft and float to Tokyo; it took them four months to escape, whereupon they were told that they then had to ride a pedalo to Indonesia. It’s madness.

But Nasubi really tops the lot. It concerned a rising comedian named Tomoaki Hamatsu, whose challenge was to stay alone in a flat, naked, for an indeterminate amount of time. While he was in there, he had to relentlessly enter lotteries and sweepstakes by mail until he’d won a million yen (which sounds like an astonishing figure, but is actually about £5,500). At the start of the show he had nothing at all – not just an absence of clothes, but no food, no stimulus, nothing at all beyond the means to enter sweepstakes. He had no contact with the outside world, no way of speaking to anybody. He was alone, hermetically sealed in a featureless room. For the whole time he was there, Hamatsu believed that he was being filmed in order for the footage to be broadcast on Susunu! Denpa Shōnen after the task was completed, but in fact he was being live-broadcast 24/7. A little cartoon aubergine was superimposed over his genitals to preserve what dignity remained, hence his earned nickname of Nasubi. He existed solely on the products he won in the various competitions he entered, scraping an existence as best he could with no human interaction and no idea what was going on outside of his surreal little bubble. The jaunty aubergine was augmented by mocking sound effects, making fun of his misery and presenting his suffering as slapstick farce. He survived at first solely on water, losing weight at an alarming rate, before he managed to win some sugary drinks in a competition, and then a large haul of dog food which sustained him for a few weeks. It was not a dignified existence.
He managed to reach his target of a million yen within a year – 335 days, to be exact – instantly earning himself the Guinness World Record for ‘Longest time survived on competition winnings’.
But the ordeal didn’t end there. Oh, no.

Having met his target, Nasubi was extracted from the apartment, blindfolded, clothed, and taken to a place where he believed he’d be rewarded for his year of solitude. In fact, the production team dumped him in South Korea where he was installed in another apartment, made to strip naked again, and instructed to keep entering sweepstakes so that he could win enough money to get himself home to Japan – an unbelievably cruel development.
Eventually, after much further suffering, he won the requisite sum and was again blindfolded, clothed, and flown away on a mystery jet. Upon having the blindfold removed, Nasubi found himself in yet another apartment. By this point he was a broken man, barely able to contain his frustration and devastation. Resigned to further torment, he stripped off his clothes once more.
As soon as his little nasubi was again swinging free, the apartment walls fell away to reveal that he was actually in the Susunu! Denpa Shōnen studio, with a huge audience cheering and whooping. Naturally he was baffled by this, as he had no idea that he’d been on the air. Imagine going from fifteen months of solitary confinement to having a brightly-lit studio full of people shouting at you. What a total headfuck.

And did this extended period of inexplicable torture help him to break into the professional comedy circuit? Er, no, not really. The producers did OK out of it, with the weekly Sunday night show regularly topping 17m viewers and the transcripts of Nasubi’s diaries of solitude becoming a bestselling book, but the poor bastard at the centre of it all found himself unable to properly converse with people and uncomfortable wearing clothes. He eventually went on to become a moderately successful stage actor, although it’s hard to say whether or not the whole thing was worth it; he claims to be ‘grateful’ for the experience, but this could well just be denial.

It’s a bit more hardcore than Strictly Come Dancing, isn’t it?

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