Review: To Be Takei

          Everyone, it seems, loves George Takei.  The classic Star Trek veteran was one of the first Asian Americans on television and made a splash when he finally came out in 2005, a decision prompted by Arnold Schwarzenegger’s veto of gay marriage in California.  As doggedly political as he is disarming and jolly, Takei has earned legions of new fans through his funny and thought provoking Facebook posts.  So it comes as no surprise that Takei, at age 77, has become the subject of his own movie.

            To Be Takei is an amiable and entertaining film, with deft use of day-in-the-life and archival footage to supplement the usual talking head interviews and photos.  Sometimes director Jennifer M. Kroot’s approach is cloyingly cute: the music is at times head-scratchingly kooky, and the animation used to illustrate Takei’s first gay encounter at summer camp is a little embarrassing.

            For the most part, though, To Be Takei coasts along on the vivid personalities and appeal of Takei and his partner, Brad Altman (now Brad Takei following their 2008 marriage).  The two bicker and bond as only long time lovers can, and Kroot captures poignant moments, such as the pair spreading Altman’s mom’s ashes atop a mountain and visiting the site of the Japanese internment camp where Takei was imprisoned following Pearl Harbor.  The painful impact of the internment camp on Takei and his family is vividly captured, and the film’s depiction of American racism resonates strongly as riots continue to rage in Missouri.  In addition to interviews and historical films, the movie explores this aspect of Takei’s life with scenes detailing Allegiance, an original musical starring Takei and Broadway darling Telly Leung. 

            It’s not all grim seriousness, of course.  There are fun-filled detours involving Star Trek slash fiction, an uproarious commercial in which Takei talks lasciviously about homophobic NBA player Tim Hardaway, and a terrific post-credits bit in which a Bill Shatner drag king approaches Mr. and Mr. Takei to “apologize” for skipping their wedding.  (The real Shatner is seen and discussed a few times, and while not out and out lambasted, he isn’t portrayed all that favorably.)

            To Be Takei is a small film, but as an engaging portrait of Takei, his life, and his cultural impact, it works well enough.  Perhaps we’ll have to wait for the biography (or memoir?) to dive deep into the life and times of this wonderful man.

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