George Takei is one of those stars who has known how to continually adapt and build his brand. Even though George Takei, the Brand, has changed several times over the years, his brand has always seemed to be built on honesty, making him one of the best, most ingenious, stars of our generation. To Be Takei commemorates George Takei in all his fabulous glory, and it’s almost exactly what you’d expect from one of the biggest stars on Facebook.
Takei’s life began as a kid in California, when, at a very young age, his whole family was uprooted and sent to a Japanese internment camp during WWII. From those humble beginnings, Takei made his way into Hollywood, starred in a beloved tv series, became a politician, became a movie star, became a gay icon, turned himself into an internet star, and finally became the producer and writer of a musical about the Japanese internment camp. To Be Takei tackles all of these subjects, taking us behind the scenes of the brand of George Takei to give us just a little bit more of the personal than we usually get, but keeping his image behind protective wraps. This is the Entertainment Weekly promotional profile that shows us enough of the personal life to feel slightly intimate, but never dives deep into it.
To Be Takei serves as a life chronicle, a career retrospective, a commercial for Takei’s new musical Allegiance, a bit of life with George and Brad (George Takei’s husband), and a call for gay rights. Crammed into 90 minutes, To Be Takei never penetrates much more than the surfaces of anything, including the Japanese internment (for that, you’ll have to see Allegiance), but it does pass the time aimiably enough. The sum total of insider “warts and all” sections amount to George ribbing everybody about their weight, and Brad semi-adorably worrying and kvetching about everything in order to keep the brand happy and rolling.
It’s hard to be disappointed in To Be Takei as it has so many topics to cover, and does it all entertainingly, but the surface-level lack of depth to any of the topics still disappoints, especially when it comes to either of the really tough topics: internment camps and coming out. Takei didn’t publicly come out until after Prop 8 in 2008, but had been dating Brad since 1989(ish). Yet, he doesn’t inform us of how easy or hard it was to be in the closet for so long, how he managed it, nor how it affected him. The gay rights topic gets about as much time as his “feud” with Shatner, which was in the film largely for the Star Trek fans.
Although the bulk of the film seemed to be the internment camp, much of it comes across as more informational than emotional. It is close to Takei’s heart, but he is always keeping things positive. Plus, the parts are separated out as a recurring thread throughout the film, never breaking out into a full-on section of emotional depth.
To Be Takei is an OK star-autobiography. It isn’t that long, it’s slightly self-effacing, there’s no real dirt on anybody, and it provides a good summary of a life. Everything feels calculated to maximize his brand, but protect the star. It never gets deep enough to truly know the subject (or, alternately, for the star to bury themselves in). It’s crowd-pleasing and winning, just like Takei himself, but can I help it if I really wanted more?
A version of this review originally appeared at The Other Films