Once known only as the enterprising Mr. Sulu on the original TV version of “Star Trek” and a half-dozen feature film spin-offs, George Takei has since become even more famous. Director Jennifer M. Kroot’s documentary, “To Be Takei”, follows the Japanese-American actor as he morphs from supporting player to major pop culture gay icon.
His current passion has him as a gay-rights crusader for same-sex marriage and a social media humorist beloved by millions. Takei has been active in the gay community since the seventies and finally came out of the closet publicly in 2005.
Kroot briefly interviews fellow Star Trek cast members, including a typically calm Leonard Nimoy and a William Shatner who denies any friendship with Takei and shows an obvious discomfort with Takei's homosexuality. At one point, the director shows a gallery of pornographic artwork showing Nimoy and Shatner in intimate erotic poses. For sheer fun, however, nothing can top Kroot’s inclusion of campy “Star Trek” excerpts as Takei, impressively bare-chested, wildly wields a fencing foil or fearfully shys away from an alien femme fatale bent on seduction.
The documentary focuses on Takei's path as a gay man, starting with his earliest awareness of his homosexuality and his initiation with a summer camp counselor, shown in an amusing animated segment. The difficulties of being a double minority are touched upon, but this is mostly familiar stuff, as is the portrait of Takei's 29-year relationship with Brad Altman, who took the actor's name when they were married in 2008.
Interviews with Takei, his family, friends and colleagues are interwoven with footage from his recent public appearances. “To Be Takei” emphasizes two major developments that define his life story: his experiences before and after coming out of the closet and his childhood memories of American Japanese internment camps. Takei has discussed the camps at numerous public speaking events with deep emotion, while his gay activism shows his cheerier lighter side.
“To Be Takei” really hits it's groove in its ongoing peek at his domestic life with his longtime partner Brad, whom he married in 2008. Brad Altman (or “Brad Takei,” as he has been known since their marriage) shows up in virtually every scene. Seemingly content to live in Takei’s shadow, the equally good-natured Brad — now Takei’s personal manager — becomes the support system that allowed the actor to sail into the later stages of his career. As a middle-aged couple, the Takeis seem charming but not especially interesting as nothing much out of the ordinary happens.
Takei has the gift of gab and anything coming out of his mouth sounds amazing with his poetic cadence and deep voice. But it's not just idle chat as he is a wise educated compasionate man who is enjoyable to listen to.
Towards the end, “To Be Takei” throws in a plug for “Allegiance,” a musical about the plight of Takei’s family in the internment camp, which Takei currently hopes to bring to Broadway. Some of it sounds a bit promotional and It might have better been left out of the film. Still, it shows how much energy he still has at 76 years of age.
The major problem with the film is that it is all over the place jumping from one anecdote to another and then back to more of an earlier story and then back again rather than using a coherent time-line. Still Star trek and takei fans will be enthused.