Mix reality TV and Japanese game shows and throw in the plot of The Truman Show, and you've got this unbelievable true story.
MADE IN JAPAN
In January 1998, a struggling 23-year-old standup comedian known only by his stage name Nasubi (Eggplant) heard about an audition for a mysterious "show-business related job" and decided to try out for it.
The audition was the strangest one he'd ever been to. he producers of the popular Japanese TV show called Susunu! Denpa Sho-Nen (Don't Go For It, Electric Boy!) were looking for someone who was willing to be locked away in a one-bedroom apartment for however long it took to win a million yen (then the equivalent of about $10,000) worth of prizes in magazine contests.
Cameras would be set up in the apartment, and if the contestant was able to win the prizes, the footage would be edited into a segment called "Sweepstakes Boy." The contestant would be invited on the show to tell his story, and, with any luck, the national TV exposure would give a boost to his career. That was it- that was the reward (along with the magazine prizes).
SUCH A DEAL
As if that wasn't a weak enough offer, there was a catch -the contestant would have to live off the prizes he won. The apartment would be completely empty, and the contestant wouldn't be allowed to bring anything with him -no clothes, no food, no nothing. If we wanted to wear clothes, he had to win those, too. Nasubi passed the audition and agreed to take the job.
On the day of the contest, the producers blindfolded him and took him to a tiny one-bedroom apartment in an undisclosed location somewhere in Tokyo. The apartment was furnished with a magazine rack and thousands of neatly stacked postcards (for entering the contests), as well as a table, a cushion to sit on, a telephone, notepads, and some pens. Other than that, it was completely empty.
Nasubi stripped naked and handed his clothes and other personal effects to the producers. He stepped into the apartment, the door was locked behind him, and his strange adventure began.
Nasubi spent his days entering magazine sweepstakes, filling out between 3,000 and 8,000 postcards a month. It took him two weeks to win his first prize -a jar of jelly. Two weeks later, he won a five-pound bag of rice.
But how could he cook it? He hadn't won any cooking utensils. He tried eating the rice raw, and when that failed he put some in a tin can, added some water, and put it next to a burner on the stove. Using this method, he cooked about a half a cup of rice each day, and ate it using two of his pens for chopsticks. (The producers are believed to have given Nasubi some sort of food assistance, otherwise he would not have eaten anything during the first two weeks of the show. To this day it is unclear how much assistance he received, but judging from the amount of weight he lost during the show, it wasn't much.)
Nasubi didn't know it at the time, but he was being watched. Sure, he knew about the cameras in the apartment, but the producers had told him the footage would be used on Susunu! Denpa Sho-Nen after (and if) he completed his mission. And he had believed them.
But the producers had lied- he'd been on TV from the very beginning. Each Sunday night, edited highlights of the week's activities were broadcast in a one-hour show on NTV, one of Japan's national networks. The show was a big hit, and in the process Nasubi became a national celebrity, one of the hottest new stars in Japan. A naked star at that, albeit one whose private parts were kept continuously concealed by a cartoon eggplant that the producers superimposed on the screen.
Viewers were there when Nasubi won each of his two vacuum cleaners, and they were there when he won each of his four bags of rice, his watermelon, his automobile tires, his belt, and his ladies underwear (the only articles of clothing he won during months of captivity), his four tickets to a Spice Girls movie (which he could not leave his apartment to see), his bike (which he could not ride outside), and countless other items, including chocolates, stuffed animals, headphones, videos, golf balls, a tent, a case of potato chips, a barbecue, and a shipment of duck meat.
Nasubi also won a TV, but the joy of winning it was shattered when he discovered that his apartment had neither antenna nor cable hookup. (The producers feared that if he watched TV, he'd find out that he was on TV.)
And he won a few rolls of toilet paper -10 months after his ordeal began.
Nasubi sang a song and danced a victory dance every time a new prize came in the mail; when he did, many viewers at home sang and danced with him. When his food ran out, they gagged and sobbed with him as he ate from the bag of dog food he won; when he prayed for a new bag of rice, viewers prayed, too.
Nasubi was such a media sensation that reporters tried to find out where he was living. It took six months, but someone finally located his apartment building in June 1998. Before they could make contact with him, however, the producers whisked Nasubi off to a new apartment in the dead of night, telling him the move was intended "to change his luck".
In July the producers set up a live website with a video feed and a staff of more than 50 people (many of whom were just there to make sure the moving digital dot stayed over Nasubi's private parts at all times). Now people cold watch Nasubi 24 hours a day.
Finally, in December 1998, one year after he was first locked into his apartment, Nasubi won the prize -a bag of rice- that pushed his total winnings over a million yen. So was he free? Not exactly: The shows producers gave him his clothes, fed him a bowl of ramen noodles, and then whisked him off to Korea, where he couldn't speak the language and no one would recognize him. Then he was placed in another empty apartment, where he had to win prizes to pay for his airfare back home.
When Nasubi finally accomplished that, he was flown back to Tokyo, taken to a building, and led into another empty room (it was really just a box, but he didn't know it).
Out of habit, he stripped naked and waited for something to happen. Suddenly the roof lifted, the walls fell away, and Nasubi found himself, still naked, his hair uncut and his face unshaved for more than 15 months (he never did win clippers or a shaver), standing in an NTV broadcast studio in front of a live audience. Seventeen million more people were watching from home.
More than 15 months had passed since Nasubi had been locked into his apartment, and it was only now, as he held a cushion over his privates, that he learned he'd been on TV since day one. His weekly show had made him Japan's hottest new star, the producers explained to him. The diary he'd kept? It had already been published and was a bestselling book, one that had earned him millions of yen (ten of thousands of dollars) in royalties. That bowl of ramen soup the producers had fed him the day he came out of isolation? The footage had been turned into a popular soup commercial. They told him about the website -it made money, too. All of this resulted in a lot of money for Nasubi.
It took quite a while for all this information to sink in. "I'm so shocked," Nasubi finally said, "I can't express what I feel."
ONE OF A KIND
Today, Nasubi is a happy, successful celebrity. Nevertheless, as crazy as Japanese game shows can be, it's unlikely that any other person will experience what he went through. Even if someone were crazy enough to agree to be locked in an apartment for such a long time, they would know from the beginning what was up.
But there's another reason: that much isolation just isn't healthy. Sure, he looked relatively happy on the show, and he certainly had moments of joy. But the footage had been edited to make Nasubi's experience seem better than it really was. In press interviews, he admitted there were times when he thought he was going to go nuts. "I thought of escaping several times," he told reporters later, "I was on edge, especially toward the end."
This show is 90 minutes, but the big reveal starts at the 1 hour, 10 minute mark.
___________________The article above was reprinted with permission from Uncle John's Unstoppable Bathroom Reader.
Since 1988, the Bathroom Reader Institute had published a series of popular books containing irresistible bits of trivia and obscure yet fascinating facts.
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