THE CONTESTANT on Hulu is a documentary about a Japanese reality star, who was unaware that the nation was watching him. So why are we reviewing it here? Because what he is put through is torture. Read our full The Contestant documentary review here!

THE CONTESTANT is a new Hulu documentary feature about a reality star before the concept of reality had really become a thing. You’ll even notice that headlines from when it happens say “Real-Life TV” because the genre and term “reality TV” hadn’t even been decided on yet.

I’m happy to say that this reality star (who had no idea he was famous until 15 months into the contest) is interviewed for this documentary. In fact, he is a big part of it, as it focuses on the torture and brainwashing, he experienced. And the effects of his experience – which began in 1998 – very clearly left scars. The runtime is 90 minutes and it’s a wild ride!

Continue reading our The Contestant documentary review below. Find it on Hulu from May 2, 2024.

The crazy beginning of reality TV

In Japan, crazy TV shows with contests that push their contestants to their limits (and beyond) have been a huge hit for decades. Still, nothing quite like this show had been seen before when Nasubi became a reality star in 1998.

The Contestant is a documentary about the incredible true story of a man who volunteered to take part in a contest but had no idea what it was about. Before it was over, he had lived for 15 months inside a small room where he was naked, often starving and alone.


Remember, this was before Big Brother and Survivor were international phenomenons. Even the movie The Truman Show came out later that same year [1998]. Of course, all the big reality shows would begin right around this time. In fact, Big Brother and Survivor were both created in 1997 in Europe – the Netherlands and Sweden respectively.

Both shows had their first US seasons in 2000, so not until Nasubi had been released from his reality TV hell.

To survive, he had to win prices from magazines. If he won food, he could eat it. And if he won dog food, he would have to eat that. His goal was to win magazine prizes worth 1 million yen. Of course, once that happened, the show was such a big success that the producers decided to add a new spin on the “contest”.

I don’t want to give it away here, but everything that happens is just so unfair. And Nasubi is clearly hurting – physically and, especially, mentally.

The Contestant – Review | Hulu Documentary Movie

Torture and brainwashing

The craziest thing about the whole thing: Nasubi was a reality star who had no idea that he was being watched by millions of people in Japan weekly in a TV show called Denpa Shonen: A Life in Prizes. Not until 15 months later, when the “contest” is finally over, does he realize that he is a megastar.

The network has made a fortune showing people only the fun and quirky parts of Nasubi’s life in solitude.

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In reality (pun intended), he was desperately lonely and depressed. He even contemplated taking his own life, which speaks volumes. You see, the door was unlocked and he could’ve left at any time. So why didn’t he? Well, that’s the big question that leads us to the reason why we’re covering it.

What Nasubi went through is borderline torture and an actual study of the power of brainwashing. The producer, who is a special kind of evil, wanted to keep his success going and kept talking Nasubi into continuing. With Nasubi starving and being thrilled with every little prize, he won, they had him in the palm of their hand.

Watch The Contestant on Hulu now!

While Nasubi had no idea people were already watching him in this contest, the network was releasing his personal diaries from the show as books. They were making a fortune off of his suffering. As noted in The Contestant documentary, especially the younger Japanese viewers loved the show. And they could not get enough of Nasubi!

The older generation who had lived through war, did not find it funny that a man was forced to survive on uncooked rice and dog food. They probably also had a better understanding of what he had to be going through. Apart from the funny “I won a prize”-dancing that he became notorious for.

The final half-hour of The Contestant documentary focuses on Nasubi’s life after the end of Denpa Shonen: A Life in Prizes. It’s been a life of more challenges and tragedies. Fortunately, it’s also been a life where he went on to discover the value of being a famous face. In a very good and positive way, I may add.

Director Clair Titley and producer Megumi Inman have created a documentary that tells us the story of Nasubi from his point of view. We also hear from the producer, Tsuchiya, who wanted to get ever more extreme. However, he does not look good in this. And I think he knows it, but he still feels fine about what he did. Now, that is scary to me!

The Contestant is on Hulu from May 2, 2024.


The Contestant is the incredible true story of a man who lived for 15 months trapped inside a small room, naked, starving and alone… and completely unaware that his life was being broadcast on national TV in Japan, to over 15 million viewers a week.

I write reviews and recaps on Heaven of Horror. And yes, it does happen that I find myself screaming, when watching a good horror movie. I love psychological horror, survival horror and kick-ass women. Also, I have a huge soft spot for a good horror-comedy. Oh yeah, and I absolutely HATE when animals are harmed in movies, so I will immediately think less of any movie, where animals are harmed for entertainment (even if the animals are just really good actors). Fortunately, horror doesn't use this nearly as much as comedy. And people assume horror lovers are the messed up ones. Go figure!
Karina "ScreamQueen" Adelgaard
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