This last weekend To Be Takei was released to select theaters throughout the United States, and we were fortunate to have one here in town, The Kiggins Theater. To Be Takei is a documentary about the life of George Takei, best known as (now) Captain Sulu from Star Trek. But he is much, much more than that and this documents his life from a young age to today. The film runs approximately 94 minutes, was directed by Jennifer M. Kroot, and stars George and Brad Takei.
Though the film jumps around a bit, we’re taken for a journey through Takei’s life; starting with his time as a young boy during World War II. Being a Japanese-American means that at the time, Takei’s family was subjected to one of the darker spots in US history: the Japanese interment camps created by President F. Roosevelt’s executive order in response to a perceived threat after the Japanese assault on Pearl Harbor. While he was too young to grasp the importance of social importance of it at the time, Takei came to understand it as he grew older, and it is clear that it affected him/still affects him greatly to this day.
It chronicles his desire to become an actor and what roles he took – some he’s proud of, some he’s not. And here’s where I learned something I hadn’t known before! Takei’s first acting job was dubbing movies – like Godzilla Raids Again! (we haven’t covered it yet, but at least one of us here – mostly me – loves most things Godzilla.) Before being cast in Star Trek it seems he appeared alongside at least a handful of big-name actors, and it seems he was always meant to be a helmsman – both terrestrially and galactically – as he was the helmsman in a 1963 film about President Kennedy’s PT-109. He also had the opportunity to star alongside John Wayne in The Green Beret’s and he seems especially proud of the praise he received from ‘The Duke’ who said he was one of the best.
It walks us through how in 1965, Takei was cast as a member of Star Trek and appeared in all three seasons – it is the role that he is best known for, and one he embraces. Along with the role, he embraces the mission of the series as laid out by creator Gene Roddenberry and thought it was a great vehicle for introducing/commenting on social issues of the day even though it didn’t address one that was important to him. He continued his role in Star Trek through the following decades in the series of movies, eventually attaining the rank of Captain in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country: he still seems kind of smug about saving Kirk’s bacon in that one.
To Be Takei shows us how after Star Trek went off the air, Takei looked for what was next and determined to enter into the political realm. After working on one mayoral campaign he determined he would run for city council in San Francisco, a bid in which he was defeated… but only by 3,000 votes are so as he still recalls. He has been appointed to different public posts since that time both in the state of California and nationally by President Clinton.
Takei tells us how, because of his experiences as a child and his growing understanding of Civil Rights issues, he became a leading voice in the movement to have the Federal Government issue a public apology to the remaining survivors of the World War II internment camps – a cause which was successful during the Reagan administration.
Because this is a documentary about the man Takei, throughout the film he discusses his personal life as a gay man: how he felt as a young man, how he and his partner agreed to keep it secret so that Takei could continue to grow as an actor, and how in the 90s after same-sex marriage was vetoed by Governor Schwarzenegger he felt he couldn’t be quiet any longer so he came out of the closet. Takei and Brad’s work in the realm of working for same-sex marriage is tracked through the film, and his efforts to provide a lighter side to a serious issue is shown (sorry, Tim Hardaway, George loves you… very, very much.).
His husband Brad is an integral part of the film and they fight like an old married couple throughout (apparently Takei takes other peoples’ weight very seriously to Brad’s chagrin). They, of course, cover how they met, how they care for each other, have taken care of family members, and their decision to marry. They also cover how Brad is the managerial, detail-oriented partner and Takei is… well, he’s an artist, dagnamit!
At the close of the film, we get a glimpse at Takei’s latest project, Allegiance, a musical reflecting on the US internment camps for Japanese-Americans. I wanted to see it before the movie – I really want to see it now. It reflects an important moment in Takei’s life, and a lesson for future generations – this could be one of the biggest legacies he leaves behind in my opinion.
Peppered throughout the film are clips and interviews with different people from Takei’s life: Howard Stern probably being the most prominent – Takei is a regular guest contributor on his show these days, Trekkies like me will love all the Star Trek cast members that show up – Nimoy, Nichols, Koenig, and even Wheaton!; various authors and actors; etc. And what would a documentary about Takei be without a rehash of his on-off-(on?)-again relationship with William Shatner?! There’s plenty of that in here (though if you ask me, they both overplayed this for the publicity… you didn’t ask me? Darn.), and some great shots – including Takei’s part in Shatner’s roast.
That all brings us to the bottom line I guess: is this movie worth your time and money? I think it depends. If you’re like me and grew up watching him, appreciate his body of work, love his sense of humour, and want to learn more about what makes George Takei tick – go for it! If you have problems with his life-style – or orientation as he would point out, or have problems with his politics that you’d rather not deal with – this isn’t for you. I for one, enjoyed learning about his early acting career and how his time as a child shaped the way he views the world even to this day; he’s a fascinating guy.
~ J.T. Riles ~
Categories: Turn off your Phones!