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Hulu Buys ‘The Contestant,’ Documentary About Unwitting Japanese Reality TV Star

Hulu has acquired rights to “The Contestant,” a documentary about an aspiring comedian who unknowingly becomes the most famous TV star in Japan.

Clair Titley directed the movie, which premiered at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival to positive reviews. “The Contestant” will launch on Hulu in 2024.

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The documentary tells the stranger-than-fiction story of Tomoaki Hamatsu, nicknamed Nasubi, who auditioned for a TV show in 1998. The premise of “Denpa Shonen: A Life in Prizes,” the series that eventually made him a household name in Japan, left Nasubi naked in an empty room for more than a year and tasked him with filling out magazine sweepstakes to earn food, clothes and other necessities. But he had no idea he was becoming wildly famous in Japan as the series was broadcast to more than 15 million people.

“The Contestant” explores one of the first extreme reality shows that pushed boundaries and paved way for others like it. The film features interviews with the show’s producer, Toshio Tsuchiya, who was always willing to push his contestant to the brink, and Nasubi himself, whose life was irrevocably changed by the experience.

Rolling Stone’s critic David Fear called the documentary a “standout,” writing that “Clair Titley’s recounting of this early experiment in reality TV is both a thought-provoking take on the lengths people go to achieve fame and fortune, and one hell of a wild ride. Someone needs to pick this up ASAP.”

“The Contestant” was produced by MRC, Misfits Entertainment, Megumi Inman, Andee Ryder and Ian Bonhote.

Recent documentaries from Hulu include “Pretty Baby,” about Brook Shields; “God Forbid: The Sex Scandal That Brought Down a Dynasty,” a look at the dark truth behind prominent evangelical couple Becki Falwell and Jerry Falwell Jr.; and “Stolen Youth: Inside the Cult at Sarah Lawrence.”

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