He is waiting (Hiyama Kentarou no Ninshin) is loosely based on the popular manga series by Eri Sakai. The show, which fits well and truly into the feminist tradition, constitutes a solid argument for the following seasons. It explores a world in which a tiny percentage of cisgender men can get pregnant. In a Japanese society at the crossroads of tradition and modernity, the general consensus is that such an event is “gross” and “unmanly”. While a straight woman giving birth is considered sacred, a male counterpart going through the same experience is considered unnatural. This is why the majority of men who eventually conceive wish to terminate the pregnancy. Those who decide to keep the child are often the subject of derisive jokes about their masculinity and are socially ostracized.
Directors: Yuko Hakota, Takeo Kikuchi
With: Takumi Saitoh, Juri Ueno, Mariko Tsutsui, Shohei Uno, Lily Franky, Gaku Hosokawa
Streaming on: Netflix
He is waiting is a progressive series because of the powerful ways it tackles the subject of traditional gender roles in a patriarchal world, and the unfair expectations placed on women and men to fit into predefined, restrictive and toxic boxes. Despite its seriousness (and the many imperative questions it raises), there is a certain levity to each episode. He may not have entered the realm of comedy for me, but it’s interesting that his dramatic outlook doesn’t descend into didacticism. It could have easily become depressive too, but refrain from doing so.
He confronts you with prejudices, preconceived ideas about procreation and gender sensitivity, without ever imposing his opinions on the public. Through its pregnant heterosexual male protagonist in the lead role, the show’s design/writing does an outstanding job of subtly showing the unequal treatment of women through the ages and the ridiculous expectations placed on them from the very beginning. From marriage to motherhood, He is waiting presents an empathetic narrative that believes in pushing change in its own way to create a better world.
Kentaro (Takumi Saitoh) is a successful advertising executive in his late thirties who prides himself on “predicting and preparing.” Said organizational skills extend to work and personal life. At the ad agency, he’s the blue-eyed boy from the office. Among his casual romantic relationships, true attachment is only shown to his recurring girlfriend, Aki (Juri Ueno), whom he considers “mature”. There’s a flippant air of sexism in his workplace — an attitude that Kentaro doesn’t match. After spending a night at Aki’s, he begins to show signs of illness. To his surprise, he is informed by the doctor of her pregnancy. He rushes home deliriously, only to have the pharmaceutical test confirm the result a second time. Meanwhile, Aki’s visit to the gynecologist sparks an unexpected conversation about children. At work, Kentaro begins to slip, his hormonal changes taking their toll.
The show’s strength is its fair and honest approach to a complex set of topics. The detailed exploration of gender sensitivity is essential through the same approach. The general perception of the Japanese is that it is the “woman’s role” to bear children. Unlike female pregnancy, which is praised, its counterpart is despised. An example of the aforementioned sensitivity is that Kentaro has set up a free online forum for pregnant straight men to discuss anything related to their predicament, without fear of judgment or shame. His attempt is to normalize men having babies. What’s great with the incredibly engaging He is waiting is that it speaks to you (without actually telling you) about the pressures that women face on a daily basis and the magnitude of the expectations placed on their shoulders by the unjust ecosystem that is society.
Aki’s individual journey (as a woman, as an ambitious writer) is as important to the narrative as Kentaro’s. A trip to meet the estranged family reveals an uncomfortable past. Her father, a typical patriarch, wants her to be married with children. In her current state, she is only a “disgrace” in his eyes. Deep conversations with Ken about the prospect of raising a child together accentuate their unique bond. He uses the word “marriage” on more than one occasion, and she lets him know that she is committed to raising their child together, but does not wish to be in a relationship per se. Long after Ken has become a symbol for the community, a small scene reiterates the central message of the show: equality. Office rival Tanabe verbally comments on one of Ken’s online gender trending posts. “Something so basic, and yet it grabs so much attention,” he says. “They will listen because it is said by a man. If a woman says it, no one listens,” Ken replies ironically. Another ode to his broad anti-discrimination message! Even the language used is carefully crafted to describe how essential such an entity is on the path to justice. A must-have watch!