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Series Analysis: He’s Expecting (2022) by Yuko Hakota and Takeo Kikuchi
Series Analysis: He’s Expecting (2022) by Yuko Hakota and Takeo Kikuchi

Series Analysis: He’s Expecting (2022) by Yuko Hakota and Takeo Kikuchi

Observing a heterosexual man complain while experiencing the numerous struggles that countless women have endured over time will surely be amusing.

by Sophia Ng

“You sound like one of those guys,” he spits, “Men who get girls pregnant then say ‘Oh, I understand’, and sign the form like it’s none of their business.” Aki says nothing to that, silently taking a gulp of water. “But I’m the one who bears the risk whether it’s childbirth or an abortion.”

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The 2022 comedy-drama “He’s Expecting (Hiyama Kentaro ō Ninshin)”, directed by Yuko Hakota and Takeo Kikuchi, portrays a unique situation where Hiyama Kentaro, a 33-year-old man, experiences a reversal of traditional gender roles. He becomes pregnant and emotionally struggles with his partner’s lack of understanding and support, and the potential physical challenges he may face regardless of their decision to keep the baby. This limited series, now streaming on Netflix, is loosely based on Eri Sakai’s 2012 manga series “Hiyama Kentaro no Ninshin” and explores the concept of male pregnancies in a conservative Japanese society where it is uncommon but not impossible.

Takumi Saitoh, a renowned actor and director, takes on the lead role of Kentaro Hiyama, a prosperous 33-year-old advertising executive who is considered the rising star of his company. His female counterpart, Aki, is played by the charming Juri Ueno, most recognized for her starring role in the live action version of “Nodame Cantabile”. Hiyama’s career is flourishing and he spends his days surrounded by different women, one for each day of the week. However, his bachelor lifestyle is turned upside down when he discovers he is expecting a child.

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Initially, the answer seems straightforward: terminate the pregnancy. He never intended to enter a committed partnership, let alone become a parent. However, when he has a change of heart and decides to keep the baby, we are taken along for the ride as he navigates the challenges of being a pregnant man. The show expertly blends humor as the protagonist grapples with his rapidly changing body and tries to succeed in a corporate environment dominated by men, while also delving into deeper issues of gender norms and bias.

The concept of the series is enough to pique one’s interest – what would happen if men were able to experience the physical discomforts and challenges of pregnancy instead of women? In the first few episodes, we witness Kentaro’s body undergo changes – he begins producing breast milk that stains his shirt while he’s at work, his facial hair grows back quickly, giving him a disheveled appearance no matter how much he tries to groom himself. Initially, Kentaro struggles to be honest with his boss and colleagues about his pregnancy, using illness as an excuse for his unusual behavior and unintentionally undermining his professional image. As his seemingly perfect life as a bachelor crumbles after learning about his pregnancy, Saitoh’s character serves as a reminder of the often overlooked experiences of countless women around the world.

Kentaro shares a realization with his female coworkers in the final episode before taking parental leave. He acknowledges that pausing his career to have a child does not mean he is lowering his ambitions. In fact, he sees it as an opportunity for personal growth that will ultimately enhance his work. His colleagues try to hold back their laughter at his sudden realization, but one of the older women humbly reminds him that this has always been the reality for women.

The intriguing aspect of this show’s premise is that, although males are capable of pregnancy, traditional gender roles are not completely reversed. Females still make up the majority of the child-bearing population, leaving pregnant males as a marginalized group that faces discrimination. They are often called “gross” or “unmanly”, and taunted with insults like “mother”. With the possibility for males to carry a child, traditional gender roles are challenged and the responsibility of child-bearing is no longer solely on women. Aki sees this as a “miracle” as she can have a child without going through the physically demanding nine months of pregnancy. However, it also raises questions about Aki’s role as a mother. As she discusses their future, she acknowledges that she cannot fulfill the role of a “regular mother” since she is not the pregnant one and will not give birth. But what does it truly mean to be a “regular mother”?

During a gathering, Aki and her friends bring up the topic of male pregnancies. One of them comments that it is unfortunate for the partner of a pregnant male, as she is unable to fulfill her role as a woman. This raises the question of what it truly means to be a woman if bearing and nursing a child is not a defining factor. Does our ability to bear children determine our womanhood? This series thoughtfully challenges and examines traditional gender roles, prompting us to question what it means to be a mother, father, man, and woman. Is the title of “mother” solely based on a person’s capability to carry and give birth to a child? And if so, how would we define a pregnant man? Would they be considered a mother rather than a father? In societal norms, men are expected to provide for the family while women are responsible for bearing and caring for children. However, in situations where these roles are reversed, the woman is still perceived as not fulfilling her expected role, even though the child is being produced by her male partner through childbearing.

In this new version of Japan, the contrast between pregnant males and females only highlights the challenges faced by women and the societal expectations placed upon them based on their biology. As America Ferrera’s character in “Barbie” puts it, it is impossible to be a woman. Women are expected to carry and give birth to children, enduring physical and emotional trauma in the process. They are then expected to stay at home and take care of the child and household, while their partners are seen as the breadwinners for working outside the home. Even if males were able to bear children, the roles would not be equally reversed. Women would not be celebrated as breadwinners, but rather criticized for not fulfilling their traditional roles. It seems that even when we succeed, we still lose.

The show concludes with a positive tone, as Kentaro takes time off from work to care for his newborn baby at home while video chatting with Aki, who has started a new job abroad. The two appear to be a happy and content family. Even though most problems are quickly resolved, this works well for the limited length and pacing of the series. Saitoh’s performance as the bumbling pregnant lead is entertaining, and he has good chemistry with Ueno, his onscreen partner. However, the series could have also succeeded with different actors in their roles. Saitoh’s tall and rugged appearance adds to the humor as he struggles and occasionally fails to handle the challenges of pregnancy.

The series does not have a visually striking aspect and primarily takes place in urban settings. Despite the muted and somber color scheme used for both the surroundings and characters’ attire, and the serious nature of the topics discussed, the show manages to captivate viewers without becoming overwhelming or repetitive. The cinematography effectively creates a sense of self-reflection through night scenes, which contrast the warm, soft lighting on the characters with cool blue or green backgrounds, isolating them and giving the impression of being in their own personal bubble. For a brief moment, we are immersed in the characters’ inner thoughts as they contemplate their concerns for the future and reflect on life’s bigger questions. The show also incorporates moments of light humor throughout each episode, allowing for deeper consideration of relevant themes such as family ties and gender roles in the modern era. Viewers are naturally drawn to ponder these same issues that affect the characters.

While the humorous aspects may not elicit a strong emotional response from viewers, the show often injects levity through playful soundtracks and scenes where Saitoh’s character unknowingly embarrasses himself. This provides a lighthearted balance for the show. With its unique premise and high-quality production, as well as its exploration of family dynamics and challenging traditional views on gender roles and relationships, “He’s Expecting” is definitely worth watching. Witnessing a cisgender man experience the pains that countless women have endured throughout history is sure to provide an entertaining experience.