Who is Tomoaki Hamatsu and what happened to him? All about Japanese reality TV star ahead of Hulu documentary 

Tomoaki Hamatsu
Tomoaki Hamatsu's story to be explored in Hulu's The Contestant (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

The Contestant is an upcoming documentary film based on the life of Tomoaki Hamatsu. He is a comedian who became one of the most famous TV stars in Japan due to featuring in a controversial late 1990s reality show, A Life In Prizes. According to his Instagram profile, he now works as an actor and social worker.

Going by the nickname Nasubi, Hamatsu was forced to survive on mail-in coupons on the Japanese reality show. He was denied access to the outside world and had to live off redeeming coupons. The Hulu documentary directed by Clair Titley, explores the bizarre story behind the popular show through interviews with the comedian himself.

What happened to Tomoaki Hamatsu?

Tomoaki Hamatsu is a native of Fukushima in northeastern Japan. He starred in the controversial Japanese reality show, Denpa Shonen: A Life in Prizes, where he was left naked in an empty room for more than a year and tasked with filling out magazine sweepstakes to earn food, clothes, and other necessities.

At that time, Hamatsu was unaware that he had become a household name in Japan as the series was broadcast to over 15 million people.

As a social worker, Tomoaki Hamatsu spends his time reconstructing Fukushima, which was hit by the March 2011 triple disaster. It was a giant tsunami followed by a 9.0 magnitude earthquake, which set off the world's worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl.

He strives to bring social change by raising awareness about the region which is his home. In the documentary film, he says:

“I want everyone to know the people of Fukushima are working hard. Life is gradually returning to what used to be in the exclusion zones. Of course, I realise the road to decommissioning the nuclear plants is still a long battle. But I would like people to know the Fukushima of today, feel hope by visiting Fukushima and watch Fukushima rebuild."

While many people think that Tomoaki Hamatsu's highest point in life was 25 years ago during his appearance on the reality show, he has a different opinion:

“But it’s just the opposite. That was the worst point in my life. I overcame that. And now I am free to do what I want.”

At the end of the documentary, viewers will also get to see Hamatsu become a climber and scale the formidable Mount Everest, dedicating his success to Fukushima.

Why was Denpa Shonen: A Life in Prizes considered controversial?

Denpa Shonen: A Life in Prizes was deemed controversial because it set a prime example of the extent society can go to for entertainment and how less the concept of consent was taken into consideration by the show makers.

In 1998, popular Japanese TV producer Toshio Tsuchiya invited Tomoaki Hamatsu to participate in a challenge where he was led into a room, stripped naked, and left with a stack of magazines to earn what he needed.

Although he could have left midway, Hamatsu was determined to complete the mission. While he never managed to clothe himself and remained naked on the show, he was often shown dancing to celebrate when he managed to gather something as basic as a pot of kimchi.

Throughout this journey, little did Tomoaki Hamatsu know that his experiences were being broadcast to over 15 million people and he had become a celebrity overnight, all without his consent.

Hulu's The Contestant raises serious questions regarding these topics of consent and the extremes of entertainment media. Titley, who chanced upon the reality show and reached out to the actor himself, said in an interview with The Associated Press on April 29, 2024:

“I felt that they were kind of dismissive and even derogatory to an extent about, you know, look at those crazy Japanese. And I really wanted to know Nasubi’s story. I really wanted to know what had happened to him, why he’d stayed in there."

Titley also conducted interviews with Tomoaki Hamatsu’s mother, sister, and friends. They expressed a mix of emotions including outrage, sorrow, and pride regarding what he had to endure on the reality show.

At what time will The Contestant premiere on Hulu?

Hulu's The Contestant will be released on Hulu on May 2, 2024. Based on different time zones, the schedule is as follows:

  • Pacific Time (PT)- USA & Canada: May 1, 2024, 12:00 AM
  • Eastern Time (ET)- USA & Canada: May 1, 2024, 3:00 AM
  • Mountain Time (MT) - USA & Canada: May 1, 2024, 1:00 AM
  • Central Time (CT) - USA & Canada: May 1, 2024, 2:00 AM
  • Atlantic Time (AT) - Canada: May 1, 2024, 4:00 AM
  • Greenwich Mean Time (GMT): May 1, 2024, 8:00 AM
  • Central European Time (CET): May 1, 2024, 9:00 AM
  • Eastern European Time (EET): May 1, 2024, 10:00 AM
  • India Standard Time (IST): May 1, 2024,1:30 PM
  • China Standard Time (CST): May 1, 2024, 4:00 PM
  • Japan Standard Time (JST): May 1, 2024, 5:00 PM
  • Australian Eastern Standard Time (AEST): May 1, 2024, 6:00 PM

The show inspired by Tomoaki Hamatsu's life had previously premiered at the 2023 Toronto International Film Festival.

App download animated image Get the free App now