To tell you the truth, I was never a fan of the original Star Trek series. I understood that Gene Roddenberry had done something fabulous with the melding of races and over time, I understood why some people thought it was wonderful. I never developed any warm feeling towards any of them (although it would be hard to resist Leonard Nimoy) but the rest meant nothing to me.
Major Kira in Deep Space Nine is when I connected with it for the first time. Only then did I go back and watch reruns of Star Trek: Next Generation. Deep Space Nine I loved. Voyager I liked a lot. Next Generation I liked enough. The original Star Trek? Never. Over the years, I knew that George Takei had taken on new roles, but I honestly didn’t pay attention. This Jennifer Kroot-directed film, To Be Takei, blew me away.
(JLH: 4.5/5) Not yet seen by Rich.
On the surface, George Takei appears to be perpetually sunny with a huge grin and goofy laugh. His spark for entertaining started at age four, learning to perform “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” for his parents’ friends. I don’t doubt that his positive attitude is what’s gotten him through.
Kroot fleshes out the story in a very moving way. Takei comes from a Japanese family, with respectable and withdrawn parents, who end up in not one, but two internment camps. When his father refused to sign the Loyalty Oath that stated, “I pledged my loyalty to the United States and renounce my loyalty to the Emperor of Japan and the institutions of Japan,” their family was sent from a relatively nonrestrictive camp in Arkansas to a heavily restrictive camp in Northern California. Since his father never felt any loyalty to the Emperor of Japan, having thought of himself as an American, signing the Loyalty Oath would be admitting to something that was never the case.
As Takei remembers, the security prison for Japanese Americans was closed-in with three barbwire fences, brutal with snow and weather unfamiliar to a Los Angeles-bred child. Prior to the detention camp, his father had been a prosperous businessman, but sadly ended up working as a waiter in a Chinese restaurant. With pictures and signs saying, “Japanese not wanted,” it makes you think of the parallels to the current immigration crisis and poor kids coming over the Guatemalan border. It breaks your heart.
As Takei grew up in an increasingly affluent and tolerant family, he realized he was gay. There’s a nice sequence where he talks about his first gay experience, which of course wasn’t recorded, so it’s done in animation. When he attended summer camp, one of the counselors recognized he was gay and initiated him into his true sexual nature. It is handled very well. From then on, he’s a Japanese-American activist, a gay rights activist, and increasingly a gay marriage activist. For someone living with his level of fame, he uses it to good effect. The way Kroot tells his story, with scenes chronicling his life from childhood interspersed with his contemporary life with husband Brad, was very moving. Takei and his husband have been together for 23 years and were finally able to get married when California passed the gay marriage amendment. But up until that point, he had been very careful to hide his sexual identity – because in Hollywood, it would be the end of jobs.
I was astonished by all the roles he played beyond Sulu: Playhouse 90, Twilight Zone, many television appearances – one with very fond memories of John Wayne in Green Berets. Everybody in the film comes off great and people from Star Trek are all supportive of him (Uhura and Chekov were both at his wedding). Leonard Nimoy was out of town and couldn’t make it, but was apologetic about it. The only person who acts like a total ass, of course? William Shatner.
I really loved To Be Takei. Once I got to know him better, his big grin and crazy laugh became very endearing to me. I cried a bit at the end of the film as it deals with a new musical called Allegiance, starring Lea Salonga and George Takei as his father. It broke attendance records at the Old Globe Theater in San Diego and is supposed to be slated for a New York opening in 2015. And if it opens, believe me, I will definitely go. It seemed very much to me like a Japanese-American version of Fiddler on the Roof. So from me, that’s really high praise.
Review © Jan Lisa Huttner (8/25/14)
Middle Photo: George Takei and his husband Brad Altman
Bottom Photo: George Takei as “Hikaru Sulu” on Star Trek
Q1: Does To Be Takei pass the Bechdel Test?
No, it does not pass the Bechdel Test. It’s very much about George Takei and most of the conversation is between Takei and Brad, and various appearances he made on the Howard Stern Show and his roast of William Shatner along with many other things. There are very few women interviewed in the film, and when they are interviewed, they talk exclusively about him. He has a sister Nancy and appears to have a brother, but they never mention whether he and the brother are estranged or whether the brother’s now dead. It just wasn’t clear. The brother’s in the pictures, but only the sister Nancy is interviewed. But again, women, such as they are in the film, are always talking to him or about him. There are no women talking to each other.