A Journey Through the Life of George Takei

The exhibition includes a wall of portraits of George Takei that he has received from fans over the years.

By J.K. YAMAMOTO, Rafu Staff Writer

Always on the go, actor/activist George Takei didn’t have a chance to see the exhibition about his life until the press preview last Saturday at the Japanese American National Museum.

“New Frontiers: The Many Worlds of George Takei,” which opened March 12 and runs through Aug. 20, was curated by author, journalist and cultural critic Jeff Yang, drawing from a vast collection donated to JANM last year by George and Brad Takei.

Divided into five sections, the exhibition explores Takei’s incarceration with his family during World War II; his Hollywood career, including his iconic role in “Star Trek”; his history of civic engagement, including his advocacy for Japanese Americans and the LGBTQ community; the Broadway musical “Allegiance,” which educated the public about the camps; and his current status as pop culture icon and social media celebrity.

Takei, who turns 80 next month, greeted reporters while seated in a reproduction of the chair he used in “Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country” (1991), in which Capt. Hikaru Sulu commanded the USS Excelsior. (The actual chair couldn’t be located, so a replica was made.)

The uniform Takei wore as Capt. Sulu in “Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country” (1991).

“I was in New York. I’ve been in rehearsals for Stephen Sondheim and John Weidman’s masterpiece ‘Pacific Overtures,’ which has been exciting,” he said. “We arrived last night, we’re flying back tomorrow. So I’ve not seen the exhibit … I’m looking forward to it both with eagerness and a little trepidation. But I feel so honored to be in this position, sitting in this chair.”

Speaking as past chair of JANM’s Board of Trustees, Takei said, “This is something that I really didn’t expect. From the beginning when I started serving here, one of the subjects that I was lobbying for was an exhibit on the image of Asians and Asian Americans in the media. That has been the heritage or legacy or burden that we have to carry. It’s been one-dimensional, unattractive characters, and when there were interesting, humanized [Asian] characters, they were usually played by non-Asians …

The costumes that George Takei wore as Ojii-chan and Sam Kimura in “Allegiance.”

“I thought that was an important subject for a museum exhibit and I was continuously lobbying the curators and the museum president and all the powers that be … It didn’t happen … but here I am in this very humbling position of having that exhibit built around me.”

Takei, a native Angeleno, was pleased that the exhibition includes his family history. He noted that his mother was born in Sacramento and his father was born in Japan and raised in San Francisco. “He fancied himself an American … [but]he could not get naturalized citizenship because Asian immigrants were the only ones denied naturalization.”

He added that his maternal grandfather, unable to buy land for farming because he was a Japanese immigrant, “bought the land in the name of his first-born son, who by virtue of his birth here was a citizen … That’s the kind of history we have, and of course as his grandson I had different kinds of challenges … Each one of those challenges has been something that I took as a way of defining who we are as Americans …

George Takei (back row, right) with classmates at the Rohwer camp in Arkansas.

“The internment experience was a very American experience … The importance of that chapter is an American lesson … Clearly, it was not learned, as we are discovering again in our time.”

While attending UCLA, Takei appeared on stage in a student production and was spotted by a producer who cast him in his first feature film, “Ice Palace” (1960), starring Richard Burton. Another big break came when Takei met the creator of “Star Trek.”

“Gene Roddenberry … used science fiction as a metaphor for issues of the time,” Takei recalled. “The ’60s was a turbulent time — the civil rights movement, the Vietnam War, which was tearing this country apart … Television at that time wasn’t refle