TO BE TAKEI screened as part of the Revelation Perth International Film Festival in July, 2014.
George Takei is known the world over for playing Mr Sulu in the original STAR TREK series (1966-69). The groundbreaking sci-fi show became a franchise that is now approaching its fiftieth year. The actors from the original series are pop cultural icons. George Takei is this and more again. He is 77 and continues to work as an actor and attend fan conventions. He is a star of social media. He has five million followers on Facebook who enjoy his daily humorous postings. Many of his contemporaries have retired, yet George Takei continues to work.
Filmmaker Jennifer M Kroot’s documentary TO BE TAKEI covers the life and times of George. He was six years old when the US Government sent his family to a “war relocation camp”. The internment of over 100 000 people of Japanese heritage is an infamous chapter in America’s World War 2 history. More than half of this group were American citizens. This central event shaped George Takei’s life. He has spoken and written about the pain of this experience. His recent role in the play Allegiance connects directly to this history. This is the emotional heart of the film. At one point he recalls the contrast of pledging allegiance to the stars and stripes while looking out at the barbed wire and guard towers of the camp.
The documentary follows a number of strands: George’s relationship with his husband Brad, his LGBTQ activism, his time as a public official, the trials of being an Asian American actor and his involvement with STAR TREK as both an actor and with its fandom. Interviewees include Leonard Nimoy, Nichelle Nichols, Walter Koenig and of course William Shatner. The awkwardness between Takei and Shatner is referenced and not exactly put to rest by either actor.
Kroot has done a thorough job in researching and filming her documentary. She and the crew spent a lot of time with George and Brad and we get to follow them to conventions, public speeches, Pride events, book signings, play rehearsals and The Howard Stern Show. Takei has a schedule that would daunt someone half his age. Brad functions as a manager and assistant so “George is free to smile for his fans.” This element of the relationship is an interesting one. Brad is described as detail oriented and is a natural organiser. How this role plays out when one’s client is also one’s spouse throws a light on the equality of a married relationship. George is the star in the spotlight, Brad is the supporter behind the scenes. We get to see how this plays out.
The essence of George Takei’s appeal is that no matter what has been thrown at him over the years, he is a true optimist who works to create a positive result. This is part of why he is a role model for many. Over and over, at various public appearances we see how beloved he is. Simultaneously, we are given an insight into the bumps and hurdles of a twenty-five-year relationship. Takei fans will find this an absorbing look at a multi-talented entertainer who has lived his life fully.
TO BE TAKEI runs for 93 minutes. I rated it 7/10