Ten years ago if you asked someone who George Takei was the likely response would be, “the guy who was Sulu on Star Trek.” While that remains Takei’s best-known role, since he publicly came out of the closet in October 2005 Takei’s popularity has exploded far beyond the starship Enterprise. The documentary To Be Takei, directed by Jennifer M. Kroot (It Came from Kuchar), focuses the extraordinary resurgence of Takei and his relationship with his husband, Brad Takei.
The documentary touches on many aspects of Takei’s life — his youth growing up in an Arkansas Japanese internment camp during World War II, the discovery of his sexual orientation, his acting career, his relationship with husband Brad, and, perhaps most importantly, his current popularity as both an LGBT activist and social media sensation. Altogether, it illustrates the life of an extraordinary human being who ended up being far more than just an actor who stared on a popular sci-fi TV series.
A significant portion of the documentary focuses on the musical that Takei created about the Japanese internment camps, Allegiance. The experience of spending several years of his childhood as a prisoner of these camps had a profound effect on Takei, and he sees it as metaphorically comparable to the denial of rights to same sex couples. The musical had a very successful run in San Diego in 2012 and Takei is still hoping to bring it to Broadway (a title card that says he is hoping to do so in 2014 should probably be altered in the final release since it likely won’t happen this year), and it’s probably not a stretch to say that part of the goal of this documentary is to continue to drum up support and get the word out on this musical. Nonetheless, the fact that the now 77 year-old Takei is still actively pursuing his interests in both acting and civil rights is astounding.
The most amazing thing about Takei is how much of a sunny outlook he has on life despite these two civil rights struggles that have affected his entire life. In fact, it is arguable that Takei’s willingness to use humor to attack those who are against marriage quality has gone a long way to provide comfort and support to other activists. The movie also isn’t shy about showing Takei in a bad light, like in a hilariously awkward sequence in which Takei insults actor Will Wheton. It also touches on Takei’s long-running feud with Star Trek co-star William Shatner.
The key to your enjoyment of this documentary is based on your interest in Takei’s life. I am not particularly into Star Trek, but I have always enjoyed Takei’s hilarious contributions to The Howard Stern Show. I was glad to see that not much of this documentary is devoted to Takei’s time on Star Trek, probably because there is already plenty of information about his involvement with that phenomenon out there already. Instead, To Be Takei focuses on how he has used that fame to springboard into politics, civil rights, and his current popularity. If you’re hoping to learn more about Star Trek, you won’t find much here… but what is here is much more interesting.
Rating: An in-depth look at a fascinating pop culture figure (7/10).