The documentary To Be Takei takes us on a light and breezy stroll with the famed Star Trek actor. Made clear by his constant string of work and a highly active social media presence, George Takei has never slowed down and we never once see him relax in this documentary. He’s always buzzing, moving, talking and smiling with more projects in the making than any other Star Trek cast member. This documentary gives us some insight into his life with a handful of interviews detailing his life, his career, his politics and his general nature. It’s not exactly the hardest or revealing of subject matter, but it sure does manage to crack a smile.
Though ever the optimist and positive influence, Takei doesn’t shy away from his dark past of tragedy and suffering. He speaks with great detail, to both the camera and many foundations, about what it was like growing up in a Japanese-American internment camp. He relays the hardships for his parents that he had to endure from having his life turned upside down. Though he was released from the camps at a fairly early age, his pain was far from over. After discovering his homosexual orientation, it opened up a strange, frightening and wonderful new world for him. It was one that he would have to keep bottled, however, for his career in acting was just getting off the ground.
Star Trek opened up new ground not just for Takei, but for Asian-Americans desiring more from media than the usual stereotypical portrayals. Many would grow up to recognize Takei as the helmsmen of the USS Enterprise, Hikaru Sulu. It was a revolutionary show to be apart of with a highly diverse cast for its time with challenging parables. Takei had quite a lot to do on the show as in his favorite episode, The Naked Time, where he got to take off his shirt and galavant around the ship with a fencing sword. The writers originally conceived him brandishing a samurai sword, but a fencing sword meant so much more to Takei since he was inspired as a boy by Errol Flynn’s swordplay in Robin Hood. To be able to relay that same inspiration to a new generation and an entire race must’ve been an incredible experience.
But Takei didn’t have as much luck after the series ended. He starred in a series of very offensive roles that were the exact opposite of what he was aiming for. He also had to hide his homosexuality for several decades more. But there were some glimmers of hope as in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country where Sulu had moved up in rank to captain of his own starship. To Takei, that was the Sulu Star Trek movie in which he swoops in to save the day.
After much political tension circling gay marriage, Takei stood silent no longer. When he finally came out to the public, it was a huge relief. He’d always been so upbeat, but now he was ecstatic to finally be honest with himself. The public mostly greeted him with open arms, the gay community propped him up as a spokesperson and his trademark “oh my” became the battle cry of the strange and beautiful. A handful of interviews follow Takei’s appearance on the Howard Stern show, a program in which most guests get rather personal with Howard’s direct questioning. The format clearly helped Takei relax and just be himself after years of doing the opposite.
The sections of the film that are not relegated to talking heads is a road trip through Takei’s regular routine. We see how he preps for his various gigs, attends interview programs and signs autographs at conventions. This is a man who simply does not turn off the charm even around his nervous wreck of a husband. The two of them go up to a mountain to spread some ashes of their relatives, but still treats the sorrowful trip with a slight twinge of humor. Takei remarks that while the ashes may be in the mountain, some of the relative’s ashes would end up at the cleaners having been blown into his clothing. It’s also rather amusing how the two of them find it hard to ignore the camera, commenting on if they should do another take or when to cut.
To Be Takei is as charming as the man himself, but also just as heartfelt and sweet. It puts his life on display with some great archival footage, humorous animations and smile-worthy bits of Takei just being himself. Though his optimism never seemed to diminish, Takei seems far happier in his twilight years with his own stage production, too many gigs to count and a spouse he couldn’t be happier with. Curiously missing from the documentary is the one-on-one he had with a member of the Westboro Baptist Church that ruthlessly despises his homosexuality. Whereas every other person would blow up at the furious hatred in the Church’s heart, Takei holds his ground with remarkable calm and focused debate skills. You just can’t break that unbeatable smile.
You rated this film: 4
Mark McPherson - Cinema Paradiso
Classification is to be confirmed by the British Board of Film Classification
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