Directors: Yuko Hakota, Takeo Kikuchi 

Cast: Takumi Saitoh, Juri Ueno, Mariko Tsutsui, Lily Franky, Shohei Uno Genre: Comedy drama 

Language: Japanese 

8 episodes, 25 minutes each approx. 

Imagine if cis-gendered men started getting pregnant. How would he react to it? How would society take it? Loosely based on the 2012 manga Hiyama Kentarou no Ninshin by Eri Sakai, He’s Expecting builds a plot on this premise, and fairly succeeds. What we get is a charming and sensitive comedy about switched gender roles, although some scenes come off as heavy-handed moral lessons. 

The show follows Kentaro Hiyama (Takumi Saitoh), a successful dedicated ad man who is a workaholic perfectionist. His team are working on an idea that could help give their company a “modern” and hip look. When not working himself to the ground, Kentaro occasionally sees his friend-with-benefits, Aki Seto (Juri Ueno), a freelance writer who, just like Kentaro, is a workaholic Tokyo inhabitant.

After a night of spontaneous play between Kentaro and Aki, Kentaro begins to feel sick. Around the same time, the news channels report a rise in cis-male pregnancies in Japan. Assuming it is just stress, Kentaro goes to the hospital for a check-up and is informed by the gynaecologist that he is actually pregnant. Kentaro is in disbelief. But soon, he gathers his cool and contacts Aki, being sure that she is the mother of his child, and Aki receives this news with utter shock but also understanding and respect.

At first, Kentaro wants to abort the foetus as he is ashamed of his pregnancy and afraid of societal ridicule. He also doesn’t want his work life – which is going quite well as he has just been promoted – to get affected by it. But on second thoughts, Kentaro realises that he could use his pregnancy as leverage for a never-been-done-before ad. In order to be seen as progressive and in touch with society’s modern issues, Kentaro suggests at the board meeting that the company advertise male pregnancies, and that he become the face of the campaign. This is accepted with great enthusiasm by all of the team, especially by the astonished boss, and thus begins Kentaro’s struggles to carry his baby to term while juggling the ad campaign and society’s inevitably strong reactions to it. 

The eight episode show plays out this intriguing premise with much gentleness, sensitivity and respect. While the concept of men being pregnant has been tackled before, such as with the Arnold Schwarznegger-starrer Junior (1980) and the 1973 French comedy A Slightly Pregnant Man, this Japanese comedy-drama avoids all possibilities of sensationalising male pregnancy or making a crass, slapstick comedy out of it. 

Another notable aspect of this show is the tolerant, modern-minded attitude of Kentaro. Usually in shows about work-obsessed men, the protagonist is depicted as being womanising, chauvinistic, ignorant and insensitive. The man is then hit with a “curse” or “accident” which forces him to adopt the perspectives of the women around him who he usually harasses. By the end of the story, the switch in gender roles makes our formerly chauvinistic hero aware of the issues women deal with on a constant basis, such as sexism, and he empathises with them. He ultimately makes a complete 180 degree turn in his attitudes and beliefs towards women and almost becomes a feminist. One is reminded of the French comedy I Am Not an Easy Man (2018) where an entitled guy gets a taste of his own medicine after he wakes up in a parallel universe where gender roles are reversed and women dominate society. 

He’s Expecting is far from such a world. First of all, Kentaro isn’t a douchebag misogynist. He’s just a career-obsessed man who lacks a strong support structure and has little friends. He does his best to maintain good relations with everyone while also running away from true intimacy. He isn’t “punished” by the pregnancy. While the news comes as a shock to him and his first reaction is to get rid of it, it is more out of the fear of what people will think of him or the setbacks that it will cause his life (which is reasonable) rather than a hatred of children or parenthood. 

The TV show takes great pains to deliver one overt message after another of how one should accept the news of pregnancy, and how hard mothers have it – especially single moms. The scenes with Aki and Kentaro’s hardworking single mom Tomoko illustrate this point well as the two women discuss the struggles Tomoko faced in raising Kentaro all by herself. The dialogues between the two are sometimes so direct and bordering on preachy that you wonder if the Japanese government employed the show’s creators to make propaganda to solve the country’s loneliness and low birth rate problem. But it doesn’t take away from the show’s good intentions. 

The characters are charming with there being no major antagonist threatening to rupture Kentaro’s world. The show plays it safe while raising the issues of motherhood, the importance of a family or community’s presence in raising the child, and the tender and almost revolutionary love a newborn child can introduce into their parents’ lives, while also making sure we know that working women are needlessly pressured and shamed for choosing to be childfree or that mothers face pressure to choose between career and motherhood. It does its best to appease different quarters of its audience, and in turn, the society in general.

Kentaro’s scene with his father is unexpectedly powerful in its heart-swelling vulnerability as both Saitoh and Eichi Hiyama play incredibly well off of each other as the father-son duo. However, one would have liked to see more of Miyaji (Shohei Uno), a fellow pregnant man and Kentaro’s close friend. But after the character undergoes a crisis, he is almost totally written out of the rest of the script, which leaves a gaping hole felt by all of us for the rest of the show. One also wishes to have gotten to know more about the many pregnant men visiting Kentaro’s organisation for pregnant fathers, and their stories. On its release, the comedy was faced with a barrage of vitriol, mainly by the conservative side, for its audacity to imagine a world with common male pregnancy. The snowflakes have drowned the show’s IMDb score down to 1.9 by voting it the lowest number (1 star) in big numbers.

The hateful trolls take offence at this storyline because the show reverses gender roles, assigns men a reproductive role that makes them incredibly vulnerable, and dares to claim that women face discrimination in this day and age. But if you watch the show, it is clear that it is far from obnoxious and is, in fact, harmless and plays it safe. Looks like the show written by Yamada, Sode and Amano was necessary after all, since its release has exposed the fragility and deepest insecurities of some men and women in the internet age.

He’s Expecting’ is now streaming on Netflix.

Also read: Panchayat’s innocence resonates with people, says Neena Gupta

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