It all started one snowy day in January, 1998 with an audition. The audition consisted of choosing lots because the only talent needed for this challenge was luck. A group of aspiring comedians showed up, and among them was a young man whose stage name is Nasubi, which means eggplant. Nasubi was ‘lucky’ that day, and was chosen over other aspiring young comedians for a mysterious ‘show-business related job.’ He was immediately blindfolded and driven to a tiny one room apartment somewhere in Tokyo.
When he arrived at the apartment, he was shown a stand full of magazines, a huge pile of postcards, and told to strip naked. The room was empty except for a cushion, a table, a small radio, a telephone, some notebooks and a few pens. There was not a crumb of food, a square of toilet paper, or any form of entertainment. Whatever he needed, he was to win by sending thousands of postcards into contests. The producers left and Nasubi was on his own in his unique survival challenge.
Every time Nasubi won a contest, he did a victory dance and made up a strange song about the prize he had won and how happy he was. You’ve never seen anyone’s face light up the way Nasubi’s did when he heard a knock at the door or the telephone rang. In this picture, we see him celebrating after he won a poster of his favorite TV star, an attractive young woman named Ryoko Hirose. His apartment was gradually filling up and he was beginning to live something resembling a human life. Of course there were some bad moments too, especially the day he won a TV but realized his apartment had no antennae or cable!
A doctor’s visit in May, after five months in the room, revealed Nasubi to be in perfect health! No scurvy, no fleas or lice, and no signs of malnutrition. He had lost a lot of weight, and his ribs were showing through his skin, but his blood tests and a physical examination revealed no other problems. His fingernails had grown to several inches long and his hair and beard were getting rather unmanageable by that time, but they were annoyances rather than dangers. It’s incredible what the human body can survive and how resilient people are. Who would have thought that it was possible to live like that?
Near the end of May, Nasubi’s rice ran out, and he was reduced to eating dog food. It was heart wrenching seeing him pray every night for rice.
By June, the show had become incredibly popular and the mass media had found out where Nasubi was staying. In the middle of the night, he was awakened by a producer with a flashlight, blindfolded and moved to a new apartment. He was told that it was to “change his luck” but the real reason was that the producers were worried he would find out that the entire nation was watching him. Unfortunately, the people who moved his things to the new apartment forgot to bring his rice! One of the few times we got to see Nasubi really angry was when he said, “How could you forget my rice??? How could you? Don’t you know how important my rice is?” He seemed to be at the point of breaking.
Nasubi’s first ordeal ended in December. The thing that put him over the top was, of course, a bag of rice. Unfortunately, he didn’t know that he had won and continued writing postcards. That night, he was paid another visit by the producer, who crept in with Christmas crackers to wake him up in the middle of the night. There was nothing congratulatory in the producer’s manner as he refused to answer Nasubi’s questions, and continued setting off the Christmas Cracker’s until Nasubi realized that he had successfully completed his challenge. Nasubi was curled up into a fetal position, and seemed unused to talking to other people.
Finally, he was given back his clothes, and for the first time in a year, he knew what it was like to wear clothes other than women’s underwear. They gave him a bowl of ramen, and let him out on the street. They also took him to an amusement park and to Korea to eat his favorite food, Korean barbecue. After his ‘rest’ was over, he found himself back in a room, all alone again, but this time in Korea, a country whose language he could neither speak nor write! This time however, his goal was to earn his airfare home. It was about $400 US.
He won the required money by getting a TV, expensive food and other prizes relatively quickly, so the staff made his challenge more and more difficult (without telling him) and decided that he would have to get a business class and then a first class ticket. Nasubi began to become suspicious that Nasubi must have achieved his goal so the producer paid him another visit. He was finally flown back to Japan.
This time, they took him into a television studio, and led him in a box that he thought was a room. Out of habit, he took off his clothes and waited. Suddenly, the walls of the ‘room’ fell down and the ‘ceiling’ was raised. He found himself naked in front of a thousand cheering fans and the hosts of Denpa Shonen came out and explained everything that had been happening over the last year and three months to him.
He was told that his diary had become a number one best seller grossing hundreds of thousands of yen, that when he ate the bowl of Ramen at the end of his ordeal in Japan the footage had been used in an immensely popular TV commercial, and that his website had grossed huge amounts of money.
This real-life-Truman-Show story has been paraphrased. For the full incredible story and more photos, click here.