The Contestant – TIFF 2023

The Contestant TIFF 2023 Review Featured Image
The late 1990s Japanese reality show revisited in this documentary is one of the most shocking and appalling examples of human exploitation and cruelty. Thankfully, the doc has a feel-good epilogue.

The Contestant – TIFF 2023

A Japanese reality TV star left naked in a room for more than a year, tasked with filling out magazine sweepstakes to earn food and clothing.

The participants of a late-1990s Japanese reality series look back on their experience in The Contestant. In 1998, Nasubi was chosen to participate in producer Toshio Tsuchiya's spinoff of his hit show Denpa Shonen, called Denpa Shonen: A Life in Prizes. Nasubi was forced to strip naked before being locked in a small apartment. His only way to survive was to enter countless magazine competitions and live off of the prizes.

The Contestant Synopsis

The Contestant is a documentary directed by Clair Titley about a hit 1998 Japanese TV show that predated most reality television and even the similarly-themed film The Truman Show, released later that year. Over the course of fifteen months, Nasubi lives on the brink of insanity, as his experiences in the apartment make him a cult celebrity in Japan. After the experience, Nasubi struggles with returning to a normal life.

My Thoughts on The Contestant

Built around archive clips of Denpa Shonen: A Life in Prizes, with narration redubbed by , and modern interviews with both Nasubi and Toshio Tsuchiya, The Contestant is a documentary showing one of the most shocking and appalling examples of human exploitation and cruelty. Toshio Tsuchiya in particular comes off as a quite despicable human being showing no regret with the way he treated Nasubi, which included the finale episode where a clearly mentally-broken Nasubi was paraded naked in front of a live studio audience. Thankfully, the final act of The Contestant, detailing Nasubi's new purpose in life, leads to the documentary having a feel-good ending.

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