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A Closer Look at Denpa Shonen

March 9th, 2009 by Rebecca Harper Editor

The wildly popular Japanese variety show Susume! Denpa Shonen kicked off in the summer of 1992 and ran until January 1998, when it continued as Susunu! Denpa Shonen until its September 29, 2002 finale. The series made typical reality show challenges seem like child’s play, placing contestants — mostly aspiring comedians — in outrageous situations that pushed the limits of their physical and mental endurance. Below, Mr. Toshio Tsuchiya, Denpa Shonen‘s producer, tells us more about the series. This week, you can catch the start another installment of the series, R-Mania, on Hulu. In this round, two comedians who think they’re on their way to dinner are blindfolded and whisked away to a deserted island. You can check out the first episode here:

How did Denpa Shonen start out?

Up to that point, programs were basically scripted, meaning the performers and crew knew exactly what was going to happen in the show. I broke that mold by venturing into the ground-breaking territory of unscripted programming, which turned out to be Denpa Shonen.

The show started out by catching celebrities off-guard, without scheduling prior appointments or obtaining their permission, and asking them to do something for us. In the third year of the show, we moved on to other projects.

In 1996, we chose “journey” as the theme for “Saruganseki Hitchhikes across Eurasia.” Through the camera, we shared the numerous difficulties the contestants experienced and all the many people they met along the way as they traveled toward their goal.

Their journey was unscripted and a real-life story. The obstacles that the performers experienced were overwhelming. As they were placed in extreme situations and their inner spirit was tested, they seemed to forget about the camera and acting, and allowed their human sides to be revealed. This is the essence of the show.

A thought occurred to me: What would happen if we took the concept of “journey” and transferred the setting from the outdoors to a room? This was the beginning of a project revolving around Nasubi, whose sole interaction would be with people who came to visit his room, like deliverymen. His goal would be to earn a million yen by never leaving his room. How? By writing thousands of postcards to apply to sweepstakes. A similar concept was used for Funako.

Of all the episodes you produced, what was the craziest in terms of physically pushing yourselves, your crew or your talent?

Backing performers into a corner to experience harsh situations is a vital part of the project, but segments involving trips stand out the most.

One episode that comes to mind is when one of the performers (Itoh) almost died of dehydration out in the deserts of Africa during the shoot of Panyao’s “Denpa Shonen’s Journey to Africa & Europe.” The cameraman, of course, accompanies the performers to document everything, but does not help or interact with the performers. The performers must complete the trip on their own without assistance from anyone. Panyao was the one who somehow found water to revive Itoh and probably saved his life. There was another incident where the cameraman lost the two guys in Africa for several days. White-knuckle incidents like these kept us on the edge of our seats until they reached their goal, which would be the first time we could let out a sigh of relief.

The project where Nasubi attempts to earn 1 million yen while being locked up naked in a room was based on the theme of “can someone actually earn a living off of sweepstakes?” For the 11 months that Nasubi spent trying to reach this goal, he did not take a single step outside. During this period, he plunged into despair, but because he was naked and had no clothes, he couldn’t even run to the police for help.

Aside from the five minutes that Nasubi was able to interact with a delivery person, his 24 hours were spent writing out postcards by himself in a dead-silent room. Imagine the elation that overcame him during those valuable few minutes when he would feel his only connection to the outside world through talking to the delivery person and checking the contents of the packages he would receive. It was at that moment when he would burst with jubilation and even start dancing to express his happiness. It’s in thrilling moments like these when we’re given a glimpse into the true nature of humans. By the way, he didn’t know the video was being broadcast, although he knew that he was on-camera the entire time. Day by day, he became unconscious of camera.

Any favorite episodes or moments?

It would have to be the moment Nasubi reached his goal. Actually, Nasubi himself didn’t know what the goal was. He was clueless that his situation was being aired on TV and even more clueless that his room had secretly been transported to the stage of an assembly hall, where hundreds of people were waiting to see him and celebrate his accomplishment.

On cue, the roof of his prefab room was removed and the four walls fell down, suddenly revealing a very naked Nasubi in the spotlight on stage. He looked out at the sea of people and in that moment, he revealed a natural, basic human side to the cameras. No matter how many times I’ve watched his expression and reaction, I never get tired of it!

If you could say one thing to your fans in the US what would it be?

Reality shows in the U.S. and Japan differ in their production methods. In the States, you deal with performers who are conscious of appealing to the cameras, whereas in Japan, we take great care in having the performers completely forget that they’re on camera. Here is one proven method: let’s say we install a fixed camera somewhere and aim it at someone. We deliberately shut off the switch while the person is conscious of the camera. This could last for a month but, eventually, as the person gets tired of playing to the camera, we finally start shooting for real. Audiences enjoy this chance to observe the ultimate “bare-all” aspect of people.

What’s next?

I’m working on the Kanpei Earth Marathon project which launched last December. A sixty-year-old actor and comedian, Kanpei Hazama, has just started on a two-and-a-half-year journey around the world on foot and by sail. He reached Los Angeles at the end of February and will be running 50 kilometers a day across the North American continent. We’ll be updating Kanpei’s daily challenges web site so you can share his experiences. Please check it out and cheer him on!

Last comment: about 8 hours ago 18 Comments
  • fishy says:

    They really need to bring this show back revamped and fresh. People complain how abusive it was but i found it an amazing feat of experimenting with how people can survive. I hate that Hulu has completely removed the series from its site. They have also made it so you can no longer add real reviews to any of the shows which i think is completely absurd.

    Now you can only post reviews through Facebook, AOL, Yahoo and Hotmail. How stupid is that? Barely anyone reviews the shows anymore and they are all really retarded reviews usually from Facebookers.

    I really do not like the turn Hulu has taken by completely alienating its user base first by randomly adding already free shows to Hulu Plus and now this horrible review system. To be honest i barely use Hulu anymore, the only time i use it now is when i have nothing else to watch in other places.

    Hulu has been going down hill lately in terms of really interesting shows, which i find odd that as soon as they added Hulu Plus their number of shows dropped dramatically. You would think them making money off the site it would be the other way around.

    Or maybe that was the problem many of the people providing the copyrights to those great shows did not like Hulu’s decision to change already free shows to paid subscriptions knowing many will not pay to have such a low selection of shows let alone wont watch them anymore because of their Plus tag.

    Anyway i will never forget Nasubi living off nothing but contest winnings, i was actually amazed at how many things he had won.

    I agree this is what reality TV needs to be not scripted made up reality crap like in the US. I just really wish there was more of Denpa Shonen to watch.

  • Kyle says:

    Any word on whether or not you guys will get these? Came here to proclaim my love for the show just to find out that I had already commented about it a few years ago, haha!

    Just signed up for Hulu+ and this particular series being available would make my year.

  • MB says:

    I can’t wait to see Denpa back on Hulu again! I miss it!

  • Julian says:

    Rebecca,

    Has there been any progress regarding the streaming rights of Denpa Shonen? I haven’t been able to watch the show, but I am really interested in doing so, especially the first two seasons. I would gladly buy a DVD, but it seems that none was ever released. I can’t find a place to watch the show anywhere. I did find downloads (though illegal) of a few episodes, but there were no subtitles. I found a couple of YouTube channels that had posted the episodes, but they were (justly) already shut down. Any information at all would be greatly appreciated. Thanks.

  • Derrick says:

    Can’t wait for this show to come back!
    I’m mad that it was stopped in the middle of a season of it…

  • We don’t have streaming rights to the show at time, I’m afraid. We’ll keep trying!

  • James says:

    Is there ANY update you can give us regarding Denpa Shonen coming back to Hulu? I greatly enjoyed watching this program when I had the chance to, and would love to rewatch episodes I’ve seen and hopefully see episodes that are new to me. I’m hoping negotiations are still open and progress is being made toward the show’s return to Hulu.

  • Emill says:

    Please Please Please return Nasubi, R-mania, and the crazy housewife back to Hulu. I ventured to Little tokyo to rent the videos but they were in VHS and neither subtitled.

    This show was honestly the best thing I’ve seen in a long time and I don’t really care for television.

  • The streaming rights aren’t available anymore but we’ll continue to request more of the show.

  • Meng Wu says:

    What happened to the show? I no longer see any episode posted on Hulu. Please put the video back. Thanks!!

  • Michael DeLeon says:

    Too bad this show is no longer available on Hulu. Wha’happen guys?

  • John Levesque says:

    Way to go Hulu! Denpa Shonen is a fantastic show. Would love to watch more, and of course show Nasubi season to friends and family, so please keep bringing more shows like this.

  • Wu says:

    I love this show. Thank you for bringing it to Hulu along with subtitles. Please keep up the good work!.

  • Jon says:

    I heard about these shows many years ago, but was never able to watch them until Hulu. This is probably some of the best tv I’ve ever seen. Our networks here in the US should really be ashamed for having lame scripted reality shows like ‘survivor’ and ‘dancing with the stars’.

  • Josho says:

    I really love this show. this is actual reality TV not that stupid fake stuff the US is putting out on MTV or any of those crappy channels. i wish hulu would put up all the episodes maybe even sell a DVD id buy it

  • Rammstein751 says:

    I seriously love this series. Every time I see that there’s a new episode on Hulu, I want to dance like Nasubi whenever he received a package.

  • fbk says:

    I’m loving Hula TV.

    The Lou Grant shows rock!

    http://citizensagainstjoedeters.blogspot.com

  • Kyle says:

    Can’t wait to see more Denpa Shonen. One of my favorite shows right now and I wouldn’t have even known about it if it weren’t for Hulu. I agree with Tsuchiya’s comments about the invisibility of the camera in the series wholeheartedly – the fact that the participants are never really mugging for the camera really brings about some moments that you wouldn’t ever see elsewhere.

    Can’t wait for more!

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