Who's the man behind the now-famous "oh myyy" saying and the decades-long feud with William Shatner? Is the real George Takei just as funny as he purports to be on Facebook? Those questions, and more, are answered in 90-minute movie "To Be Takei" (dir. Jennifer M. Kroot), which opens at TIFF Bell Lightbox on August 22.
In a way, "To Be Takei" is a bit of a coming out story for Takei, although in the broadest sense of the word. He did his official coming out in 2005, which was something more of just confirming what many people already knew. But a documentary is supposed to illuminate unknown facets about a person's life an create a more detailed image of them, and "To Be Takei" does that.
For instance, did you know that foul-mouthed satellite radio host Howard Stern is a big Takei ally? Beneath his sharp words and politically incorrect manner of speaking (the latter of which is being kind), Stern's had Takei on his show several times, and the two are as thick as thieves. It's a bit of a case of opposites attracting, but the real reason seems to be Stern's ability to call it like it is and Takei's being completely at peace with himself and his surroundings.
The film has deeper, more poignant, moments than simply Takei laughing on Stern's couch, as "To Be Takei" can be roughly divided into three focuses: Takei as the gay rights activist and ambassador, Takei as the Japanese-American with a horrifying past in internment camps, and Takei as the iconic Captain Sulu in "Star Trek". Takei brings a degree of lightheartedness to each of these roles, somewhat masking the intensity and breadth he's needed in each one. He would not let himself be pigeon-holed into Japanese stereotypes, and has successfully built a career upon this premise.
As a strict documentary though, Kroot's film isn't entirely on the mark. It reveals, yes, but fans of Takei will see this more as lifting the curtain to expose the man they're already familiar with. And with Takei being such a presence both online and off, you'd be hard-pressed to find many people for whom "To Be Takei" is revelationary. He's got almost 7.5 million fans on Facebook and 1.34 million followers on Twitter, with both accounts releasing a near-constant barrage of tweets, photos, memes and posts.
"To Be Takei" also tends to devolve into a fan's homage to the actor instead of riding closer to the middle of an unbiased approach. It's hard to find anything to dislike about Takei, but as the filmmaker, Kroot has the added burden of needing to separate herself from her subject. But where she does redeem herself is in how much, quantitatively, she manages to jam in. For a fan's look at Takei, she's certainly presenting a delightful little smorgasbord on all things Takei, using sharp editing so the viewer isn't overwhelmed.
Will the average person learn anything new about Takei? Probably not, especially if they undertake a quick Google and/or Facebook search. Does that mean that "To Be Takei" is of little value or not fun to watch? Not at all. This is a little gem of a movie and full of depth, even if most definitely has an agenda to it.