Sunday, October 12, 2014

To Be Takei (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

To Be Takei

George Hosato Takei, (pronounced To' Kay ) better known as Cmdr. Sulu from the "Star Trek" movies and tv series goes through life now at 77, with a wonderful lightness that intoxicates the spirit.

"To Be Takei" by Jennifer M. Kroot shows the man, the performer and his outspoken humor with zip and verve.

Here, Takei is a kind of positive Larry David character. He frequently appears on The Howard Stern Show detailing his life, his internment at a Japanese American prison camp as a youngster until the age of eight, his  marriage to Brad Altman in 2008, and his vitriol for co-star William Shatner who refused to attend his wedding. As he says in the car at one point:

"There's Bill Shatner on a billboard with tape over his mouth, just as there should be!"

He is not one to hold back. The Shatner-Takei feud has been well documented with Shatner saying that he doesn't know George Takei on a personal level and didn't  feel able to attend the wedding for that reason. He also said that he never got an invitation.

Through it all, Takei emerges as victor, making a joke out of everything. He is a joy.

Takei's childhood, spent in a World War II camp, clearly shook him as he watched his parents go through anguish, hemmed in like a herd, surrounded by barbed wire with floodlights and lousy food.

By his own admission, Takei  was a ham, so he got to UC at Berkeley and then studied acting at Desilu Studios.  Work was hard to find, but after some dubbing work for Toho monster films, he got work on the respected Playhouse 90 drama series. John Wayne hired him as did Jerry Lewis with mixed results.

Then "Star Trek" beamed him up and a pop star was made.

Some of the most arresting segments in "To Be Takei" show the icon being loved and adored across this country's constellation for his humor and irreverent bounce that is never mean. Convention after convention, he is sought and pursued like an extraterrestrial heron, everything is as it should be and Takei walks forward with a tranquil grace.

Only his husband Brad, pale and warrior-backed with something of Teddy Roosevelt in him ( due to a pair of steely spectacles) betrays anxiety. Takei is fiercely protective of his semi-passive spouse and to see this contrast (especially when Brad stuffs autograph cash in his fanny pack) is a laugh riot.

Takei the person, a Buddhist, is aware of a flow of life, which in this Trekkie film might be a beam. The condition of being human is fragile, temporary, and as he says, part of "the big whole."

Despite the actor's success, his activism and his near worldwide adoration, one aspect haunts Takei: his parents'  anguish at the camp because of his critical words. Inspired by regret, he met with playwright Marc Acito  about his and his dad's prison experiences at the Arkansas prison camp. The result, the musical Allegiance, has been playing to record crowds.

Also entertaining are scenes from Takei's day-to-day life, as he lopes about gingerly through Central Park. In one animated sequence he details his first love with a Boy Scout counselor as an event "delicious and terrifying."

When basketball player Tim Hardaway asserted his horrendous homophobia, George Takei countered with a hilarious sexual pass on video.  And, when pressed about the past stigma of the word "Gay" he coined the phrase "It's okay to be Takei". Because he is a glib showman with a penchant for the florid turn of phrase in a deep languid voice, he also seems to have a bit of Vincent Price within.

By far, however, the film's best moment is in its showing of some homoerotic artwork depicting Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock in lusty or loving embraces to the delight of the present Captain Sulu.

The ignorance of Shatner has indeed been pulverized into gaseous space junk with Howard Stern and George Takei laughing all the way.

"To Be Takei" is a refreshingly  universal documentary, snarky and affectionate by turns, but never poison. And the best news is that you don't have to moonlight in pale or pointy ears to enjoy it.

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