In 1998 a young comedian was subjected 15 months being filmed in solitary confinement without any clothes or food as part of a reality TV show.
Tomoaki Hamatsu, better known as Nasubi, was challenged for Denpa Shonen teki Kensho Seikatsu (meaning Denpa Shonen’s prize life) to live solely off his winnings from magazine competitions in a tiny apartment in Japan.
Despite the seemingly sadistic nature, the show broke records by pulling in 17 million viewers in Japan – from a population of 126.4m – on Sunday nights, with Nasubi’s diaries from inside also becoming a best-seller.
In 2020, the comedian told Style Koriyama that contrary to the edited presentation of his experience, ‘every day was like hell back then,’ as he thought ‘I’d rather die than feel like this.’
Nasubi’s journey began by being stripped of all his belongings, and left in the room which had nothing but stacks of magazines and postcards, as well as running water, electricity, and heating.
Locked in: Tomoaki Hamatsu, better known as Nasubi, was challenged to spend his time alone in a room with nothing but magazine competition winnings to feed him
Hell: It took the comedian almost a year to reach the goal of a million yen, and he was then conned into doing it all again
He was eventually freed after 335 days once he had amassed winnings to the value of a million yen – roughly $8,000 – scooping a Guinness world record in the process.
But he was then conned into going on what he thought was a celebratory trip to Korea, where he ended up going through the same process again – but only for a number of weeks rather than months.
He then returned to Japan, and when he thought he was about to be subjected to the same turmoil again, his latest apartment collapsed to reveal a TV studio with a live audience of fans.
He had become an icon over his long ordeal, with the Truman Show-esque programme poking fun at him with slapstick noises and suggestive censoring.
The name Nasubi is the Japanese for aubergine – the producers’ choice of image to cover up what was necessary on the many occasions when the subject’s naked state was not broadcastable.
But Nasubi was not ready to meet his new fans, and reportedly needed six months to rehabilitate back into normal life, after the lack of interaction and food left his speech slow and body malnourished.
Pain: The comedian’s experience meant that he needed six months to readjust to normal life, with his speech and nutrition worse than beforehand
This was just one in the Susunu! Denpa Shonen (meaning ‘Do not proceed! Crazy youth’) series, which ran from 1998 to 2002.
Other challenges – all featuring comedians as their cast members – included two people being put on a desert island for four months, someone hitchhiking from South Africa to Norway, and people watching a baseball game every day, and only getting fed if their team won.
Fortunately, Hamatsu has managed to turn the negatives of his time on the series into positives.
He completed his goal of climbing Mount Everest in 2016 saying that the resilience he gained from reality TV had come good for him in the climb.
And the fame he garnered as a result of the show has enabled him to get regular appearances as a guest on a range of less traumatic panel and game shows.
Recovery: Hamatsu managed to climb Mount Everest in 2016, almost 20 years after his ordeal