The beloved George Takei, better known as the original Sulu around these parts, is the subject of a new documentary by Filmmaker Jennifer Krootz called To Be Takei. The documentary looks at the entirety of George’s life; covering everything including his difficult childhood, his breakthrough role on Star Trek, and his activism in recent years. It is currently available exclusively on DIRECTV, from July 3rd to August 5th, before the film is released in theaters August 22.
Krootz begins the film with Takei’s childhood, which was relatively simple until America was thrust into WWII following the attack on Pearl Harbor by the Japanese. As a Japanese-American, Takei and his family were the victims of paranoia within the U.S. government, and were taken from their home in California to be placed in an internment camp in Arkansas. From the age of five until he was eight, Takei lived the life of a prisoner, an event which had a profound effect on him, as he describes in the film.
Takei explains that these dark years, while certainly not enjoyable, lead him on the path to where he is today and ultimately inspired his activism. In addition to becoming a high profile LGBT advocate, he’s one of the founders of the Japanese-American National Museum in Los Angeles and he has written a musical about the internment camps, called Allegiance, which is expected to make its premiere on Broadway sometime within the next year.
In the documentary, Takei also discusses how difficult it was to find acting work as a young man. Given the political climate in America post-WWII, parts for Asian actors were often limited to background characters or offensive stereotypes. Takei first found work dubbing Japanese monster films like Godzilla Raids Again into English for American audiences. He slowly but surely gathered small, usually uncredited, parts on television shows such as Playhouse 90 and The Twilight Zone. However, his big break came in 1965 when he was cast in the pilot of a new show called Star Trek. As you all know, the series only lasted three years, but the story has been carried on through other series and films, many of which Takei appeared in as his signature character Sulu.
Naturally, the documentary covers his Star Trek years extensively, especially since Takei is still active on the convention circuit. A highlight for Trek fans will be the interviews with his former co-stars Leonard Nimoy, Nichelle Nichols, Walter Koenig, and even William Shatner, who’s been in a decades-long feud with Takei. While both men stop just short of pulling out the big guns, the film does feature some funny clips from the past, including Takei’s now famous appearance at the Comedy Central Roast of William Shatner.
From there, Takei discusses his sexuality, and the problems he faced being a double minority during less than tolerant times in America. He talks about his decision to publicly come out in 2005 at the age of sixty-eight, and how that kickstarted his LGBT activism. Fortunately, he found a partner, Brad Altman, with whom he’s been for twenty-five years, and who is now his husband. Their relationship is featured heavily in the film, since Altman works as part of Takei’s team. The typical married bickering is there however, when Takei’s involved, it becomes endearingly hilarious.
While the film isn’t quite the exposé we’ve come to expect from celebrity documentaries, it’s a charming portrait of an American pop culture icon. It offers some insight into a man who we’ve come to know for his tongue-in-cheek humor, and shows a refreshingly personal side to the legend. The bottom line on To Be Takei is that if you love George (and really, who doesn’t?) and/or if you’re a fan of Star Trek, it’s definitely worth your time to check out this documentary.