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To Be Takei DVD Review

To Be Takei (2014) movie poster To Be Takei

Theatrical Release: August 22, 2014 / Running Time: 93 Minutes / Rating: Not Rated

Director: Jennifer M. Kroot / Tagline: A Star's Trek for Life, Liberty, and Love

Notable Subjects: George Takei, Brad Takei, William Shatner, Nichelle Nichols, Leonard Nimoy, John Cho, Dan Savage, Tom Ammiano, Senator Daniel Inouye, Nancy Takei, Dan Parent, Glenda Morris, Jay Kuo, Lorenzo Thione, B.D. Wong, Wil Wheaton, Telly Leung, Lea Salonga, Norman Mineta, Mark Leno, Brian Altman, Walter Koenig, Ryan Tate

Buy To Be Takei from Amazon.com: DVD • Instant Video

Young people probably know him primarily as that funny Asian man on Facebook.
Older people probably know him as Mr. Sulu from the original "Star Trek" and movies. Either way, people of all ages still know George Takei, nearly fifty years since he landed his career-defining role on television.

Takei's longevity, adversity, and trailblazing nature all make him a worthy subject for a documentary, which he gets in 2014's To Be Takei from director-producer Jennifer M. Kroot.

Kroot interviews Takei's "Star Trek" castmates (William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, Nichelle Nichols, and Walter Koenig), Asian-American actors who looked up to him (current Sulu John Cho, B.D. Wong), and other prominent figures who share an ancestry or sexual orientation with him (Senator Daniel Inouye, Dan Savage). But the real stars of this documentary are Takei himself and Brad Takei, his husband of six years and partner of over twenty-five.

Japanese-American actor and advocate George Takei is the subject of the 2014 documentary "To Be Takei." "To Be Takei" offers a portrait of an old married (gay) couple in Brad Takei (né Altman) and George Takei in contemporary clips that feel like reality television.

Original footage of the couple looks and feels like reality television, specifically like a feature-length pilot for an E! series that would surely win GLAAD Awards. White, significantly younger, and more detail-oriented, Brad tags along as his famous spouse gets a haircut from his old classmate and longtime barber. As George's stay-at-home manager, he handles cash at a convention autograph signing. The two live up to both sides of the old married couple image, bickering a bit yet showing each other love.

Reality television occupies an entirely different plane from theatrical documentaries, so while much of To Be Takei feels slight for its format, there is also a lot of content to give it weight. There is a look at the acting career of the deep-voiced, unaccented Takei, from his "Playhouse 90" debut to stereotypical roles in a couple of Jerry Lewis movies he regrets to a number of TV guest appearances to acting across from John Wayne in The Green Berets. Of course, "Star Trek" remains Takei's greatest claim to fame and we get excerpts from his favorite episode (the one in which Sulu runs around shirtless with a fencing foil) and his favorite movie (Star Trek VI, in which Sulu saves the day).

We also learn of Takei's career in politics, which saw him campaigning for Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley, long serving on a mass transit board of directors, and narrowly losing a bid for City Council.

George Takei responds to homophobic remarks made by Tim Hardaway in this comedy sketch from Jimmy Kimmel Live. William Shatner claims to not really know George Takei and not have gotten an invitation to his wedding.

Despite Takei's enduring success and visibility, his life wasn't always easy. In clips drawn from a number of public appearances, Takei discusses his family being sent to an internment camp in Arkansas during World War II.
He also recalls the difficult process of being released back into society, where his family had to find a place on Skid Row and work their way back up amidst anti-Japanese sentiment. Takei speaks passionately about this painful experience, which seems to have shaped his life without dimming his spirit or sense of humor.

That humor has kept Takei relevant and busy in recent years. At conventions, many speak highly of his Facebook feed, which has earned him seven million followers and helped make him a desirable and frequent guest star on television. At the same time, Takei is serious about Allegiance, a musical inspired by his internment camp experiences. Takei and his co-stars Lea Salonga and Telly Leung talk about the play, whose opening night performance is glimpsed at.

The documentary also easily fits into its very reasonable runtime another major area of Takei's life: his sexual orientation. Takei speaks of his decision to remain closeted for a long time. Audio from a 1990 appearance on Howard Stern's radio show (the most interesting of too many excerpts from that show) finds Takei denying that he is gay. Takei recalls attending parties with beards and keeping the attraction to other men he first felt as a teenager in summer camp (an experience recreated with animation) a secret (although he did meet Brad in a "gay running club" back in the '80s). Takei decided to come out as his contribution to the fight for same-sex marriage, a cause he has been happy to put a famous face on. His wedding is another good source of content, from footage of the ceremony to a discussion of Shatner's non-appearance at it. The icy relations between the two are a running motif, adding meaning to Takei's contributions to Shatner's 2006 Comedy Central Roast.

There's enough of intrigue to Takei's life and career to render To Be Takei engaging and likable, even when it assumes that fluffy E! tone. The actor's defiance of aging in both body and spirit is rather astonishing. It's staggering to think that someone who in his thirties acted with John Wayne can still be going strong, really big on Facebook, and not even look or sound all that old. That Takei has overcome great odds and packed so much in his life makes this documentary easy to like without doing anything too extraordinary.

After a limited engagement in a few theaters at the end of summer, To Be Takei comes to DVD next week exclusively at Amazon.com courtesy of Starz Digital Media and Anchor Bay Entertainment.

To Be Takei DVD cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com DVD Details

1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Dolby Digital 5.1 (English)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired, Spanish
Not Closed Captioned; Extras Not Subtitled
Release Date: October 7, 2014 (Amazon Exclusive)
Suggested Retail Price: $19.98
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (DVD-9)
Black Eco-Friendly Keepcase
Also available on Amazon Instant Video

VIDEO and AUDIO

Like most documentaries, To Be Takei pulls its video from a variety of sources. The new material is shot on digital video in the 1.78:1 aspect ratio and it looks good (although more akin to television than film). Licensed clips from a 55-year-old episode of "Playhouse 90" to a variety of 21st century news and TV shows generally are presentable as well (although limited by their sources). The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack is without issue. If your hearing and English are good, you likely won't need to consult the English SDH subtitles supplied.

It's unfortunate that for now at least you're limited to downloads for an HD presentation of the film, but this transfer is perfectly acceptable for standard definition.

A fan dressed in a Star Trek costume casually chats up George Takei in this extended scene. Somebody forgot a "Play All" button on the DVD's Special Features menus.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

The DVD has one kind of extra: bonus scenes. Desperately in need of a "Play All" option, the menu makes you select each of the 16 clips individually, a regrettable design that adds to the 31 minutes and 37 seconds the deleted material itself runs.
The unused footage includes more from before and after Allegiance's opening night, the couple's proposal stories, a tour of their Arizona house, their reflections on an album of Takei's old acting photos, rehearsing Shakespeare lines, and taking horseback riding lessons. We also hear from museum curator Jimi Yamaichi on the internment camps and Shatner recalling Takei's tasteful apartment. Takei alone shares his food tastes while ordering lunch, recalls coming out to his mother, is dressed in a formal kimono, works out at the gym, and interacts with additional fans. The section closes with a small lovers' spat in the kitchen. It's good material worth preserving. It'd be a lot more enjoyable if you didn't have to keep returning to the menu and pressing enter.

The main menu adds peppy score to the poster and cover art image. The silent submenus use old pictures of Takei.

No inserts or slipcover join the plain silver disc and the black Eco-Box keepcase that houses it.

George Takei holds a mirror up to himself after a haircut from his high school classmate and longtime barber in "To Be Takei."

CLOSING THOUGHTS

To Be Takei offers an informative and charming look at an enduring and trailblazing entertainer. It is George Takei's life that gives the film its power, but the documentary deserves credit for its strong supply of interview subjects and licensed clips, its appropriate breadth, and its agreeable pacing and design. You don't need to be a Trekkie or a Takei fan to enjoy this film.

Anchor Bay's DVD provides an adequate feature presentation and a good additional half-hour of unused footage. It's a strong enough platter to recommend to those with interest in the film.

Buy To Be Takei from Amazon.com: DVD / Instant Video

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Related Reviews:
2014 Documentaries: Ivory Tower • Fed Up • The Unknown Known • Bears
Conan O'Brien Can't Stop • Corman's World: Exploits of a Hollywood Rebel • Cutie and the Boxer
George Takei Movies: Mulan & Mulan II • Free Birds • Star Trek: Motion Picture Trilogy
George Takei Guest Appearances: The Neighbors • The Simpsons • Scrubs • Cory in the House

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Reviewed October 4, 2014.



Text copyright 2014 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 2014 Starz Digital Media, Rainbow Shooting Star Pictures, Dodgeville Films, and Anchor Bay Entertainment.
Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.