Wendy went to the opening night of THE CONTESTANT at DOC NYC last night and files this report:
Thursday, November 9, 2023
Wendy Feinberg with a report from DOC NYC's screening of THE CONTESTANT
The Contestant tells a wild and crazy true story of a Japanese young man nicknamed Nasubi, meaning eggplant in Japanese, because of his extremely long face. Bullied as a child, he becomes a comedian and in 1998 auditions for a reality show, “A Life in Prizes” in Tokyo. He is randomly selected and given the challenge of living totally isolated and naked in a room, surviving only on prizes he wins off of magazine sweepstakes. Unbeknownst to him, the show is being aired to millions of people on TV. I immediately thought of the movie The Truman Show with Jim Carey, actually filmed in the same year, but is a fictionalized story vs. a real live reality show.
I would divide the film into two parts. The first consists of watching the bizarre challenge unfold, which in the film is mostly archival footage and commentary 25 years later by Nasubi, his family and the sadistic producer of the show, Toshio Tsuchiya. We hear an audience roaring with laughter as he attempts to survive naked in this small room, but in the theater you don’t hear much laughter from the audience. In fact, I found myself very uncomfortable watching Nasubi’s struggles to survive, actually contemplating suicide, at one point.
If there is anything we can learn from this film, to paraphase Nasubi, it is that it's possible to take our weaknesses and turn them into strengths. I would recommend watching this film, only because it is so unbelievable that a show like this was aired on TV in Japan and found such great success in 1998. Yet, in The Contestant, we see this “naked truth” with our own eyes! By the way, although he is naked on the show, in true comic fashion, they used an eggplant to cover his private parts.