The Hulu documentary “The Contestant” conveys what happens when you take reality TV to its extreme.


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“The Contestant” Plot Summary

The Hulu documentary “The Contestant” conveys what happens when you take reality TV to its extreme. Directed by Clair Titley, the shocking documentary details a ‘90s reality show in Japan that showed a man challenged to live on only competition prizes. “The Contestant” is always riveting to watch, but viewers may also feel like they’re participating in the treatment and morbid fascination of Nasubi all over again. 

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Nasubi in “The Contestant” (Hulu, 2024)

What if you were stripped of all your possessions and forced to live on random prize winnings from magazines and radio competitions? And what if this whole challenge was filmed? “The Contestant” documents this real-life challenge that took place on a ‘90s reality show called “Denpa Shonen.” Through interviews and archive footage with journalists, producers, and the star of the challenge, Nasubi, “The Contestant” shows the dangers of reality TV and our unbreakable obsession with it. We first meet Nasubi, an actor and comedian who gets a chance to appear on reality TV by participating in the challenge. Nasubi is eager to please, optimistic, and gullible. With just postcards, a phone, and a radio, Nasubi strips down in a small room and starts to write and make calls in hopes of winning food to keep him alive. 

“The Contestant” includes footage of the show with reflections from Nasubi, his mother, his friends, and the show’s primary producer, Toshio Tsuchiya. In just 90 minutes, the documentary moves fast and tells a compelling story about the trauma of reality TV and Nasubi’s hardships. “The Contestant” is fascinating, unbelievable, and still uncomfortable and sensational with its treatment of this show. For as much as we may shake our heads, the documentary feels like it’s committing the same sins for good TV. Nevertheless, “The Contestant” wisely pivots to Nasubi’s resilience in its final act and comes out as an inspiring tale about what potential real care and strength look like.

Content Information

“The Contestant” is rated TV-MA due to mild cursing, nudity, and some disturbing situations with the threat of death. 

“The Contestant” General Information

Director Clair Titley
Screenplay By Clair Titley
Date Released May 2nd, 2024
How To Watch Hulu
Genre(s) Documentary

Non-English (Japanese)

Film Length 1 Hour, 30  Minutes
Content Rating Rated TV-MA
Noted Characters and Cast
as Himself Nasubi
as Himself Toshio Tsuchiya

Character Descriptions

Please Note: This character guide is not an exhaustive list of every cast member, and character descriptions may contain what can be considered spoilers.

Nasubi

Nasubi is an actor and comedian who was looking for his big break through reality TV.  He infuses most situations with humor and optimism to hide a great deal of pain. When he was cast on “Denpa Shonen” for an unlikely challenge, his optimism was confronted when he had to fight for survival. 

  • The actor is also known for their role in “Denpa Shonen.”

Toshio Tsuchiya

Toshio Tsuchiya is a producer on the show “Denpa Shonen” and Nasubi’s survival challenge. He constructed various survival challenges and is more invested in how people react vs. their safety. While some see Tsuchiya as cruel, Nasubi initially admires Tsuchiya. 

 

Review

Our Rating: Positive (Worth Seeing)

Let us know your thoughts in the comments.

  1.  Did you enjoy “The Contestant?” Do you think it takes advantage of Nasubi’s story too? 

 

Highlights

A Fascinating Glimpse and Reflection on Reality TV

In “The Contestant,” we hear from producers, journalists, cameramen, and the star Nasubi all recall and explain how they felt during the sensational reality show. The revelations are rare, somber, and unlike anything seen on American reality television. From the choices made to the trauma those choices cause, “The Contestant” offers a sensitive yet informative glimpse into how reality TV can captivate and horrify at the same time.

The Starpower and Resilience of Nasubi

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What makes “The Contestant” and the challenge itself so engaging is the star power of Nasubi. He’s honest, reflective, silly, and strong. The many facets of his personality shine, and what potentially makes him so moving is how unaware he was of his own stardom. Just like how Japan may have been fixated on Nasubi in the late ‘90s, new viewers will also cheer on Nasubi today.

On The Fence

The Continued Sensationalism of Its Subject

“The Contestant” lures viewers in and makes them just as invested in Nasubi’s game show competition while they wag their finger at it. While the documentary shares a darker tone than the game show, it understands how to keep viewers invested and wondering when Nasubi’s breaking point may be. Nasubi’s game show experience serves as a warning to other shows, but “The Contestant” feels like it’s profiting off of Nasubi’s traumatic story too. 

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Good If You Like

  • Controversial documentaries, a look into Japanese reality TV, and sensational stories. 

Recommendations

If you like this movie, we recommend:

  1. Perfect Days
  2. Evil Does Not Exist
  3. The Boy and the Heron

Check out our movies page for our latest movie reviews and recommendations.

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The Contestant (2024) Review – A Shocking Look at Reality TV
Overall
“The Contestant” is fascinating, unbelievable, and still uncomfortable and sensational with its treatment of its subject.
Highlights
A Fascinating Glimpse and Reflection on Reality TV
The Starpower and Resilience of Nasubi
Disputable
The Continued Sensationalism of Its Subject
80

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