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To Be Takei
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by Jay Seaver

"An actor whose best role turns out to be himself."
3 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2014 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: For a while, I found George Takei's twenty-first century career little more than tacky, an old man who was one a minor part of a pop culture phenomenon becoming a parody of himself in an effort to hang on to what fame he had. I'm still probably going to think that when I see him doing some of his broader bits, but this documentary should at least give some perspective of why being able to be that larger-than-life figure must be wonderful for him.

Takei has lived an eventful life. He's best known for playing Lieutenant Sulu on Star Trek, at least to a certain generation; for others, that role is mainly the hook that led to him being a frequent guest on Howard Stern's radio program and then a cheerful advocate for gay rights and integration after coming out of the closet. Perhaps less well-known is how his family was placed in an internment camp during World War II (as were most Japanese-Americans in California), or his career in politics and public service during the 1970s and 1980s.

Or maybe those parts of his life are better-known than one might think. He's been a regular public speaker on certain subjects, enough so that there are a couple of points in the film when director Jennifer M. Kroot can stitch together a scene of Takei telling the same story at different speaking engagements without missing a beat. That does not lessen their effect; Takei is a fine speaker and you can't really blame an actor for honing his performance over time. Still, this works best when Kroot finds other material to drop in, such as some stock photos of mid-Century Americans proudly displaying their racism for all to see.

For all that he's had some extraordinary experiences, a large part of what appeals to people about Takei is his seeming accessibility, which comes through especially well as we see him and his husband Brad; they've been together for twenty-five or so years although it's only recently that they've been able to make it official. The pair are inseparable - it makes perfect sense for Brad (né Altmann) to be credited as a co-star - and kind of wonderful in how they contrast without bickering; their senses of humor overlap and their stories are delivered with a smile even when they reflect sadder times. Just seeing them together makes one understand a lot of Takei's recent public persona, that this guy who is so extroverted and genuinely enthusiastic about everything can finally put this part of his self out where people can see it.

Kroot is able to get in close, spending enough time that Brad is getting meta about the making of the movie from the very start, and there are times when one might worry that she becoming a little chummy with her subjects and maybe missing out on interesting angles. There's also a weird amount of time spent in the last act about some sort of bad blood between Takei and William Shatner, which may be fun for some Trek fans but looks like really silly sniping between two guys who like to exaggerate themselves in public, especially compared to how sincere (if optimistically approached) the rest of the material is.

It's hard to ding the movie too much for that, though, as all the evidence indicates that there are many reasons to admire Takei for managing to become the man he is in his later life despite both obvious and insidious oppressions, and who can argue with spending an hour and a half with him? Even if the movie itself is just average, there's still a chance that the man's attitude could rub off on some people.

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originally posted: 07/30/14 15:29:58
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2014 Sundance Film Festival For more in the 2014 Sundance Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2014 Fantasia International Film Festival For more in the 2014 Fantasia International Film Festival series, click here.

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  DVD: 07-Oct-2014


  DVD: 07-Oct-2014

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