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Paws Of Fury's George Takei On The Movie's Influences, His Activism And More - Exclusive Interview

Even without his many other accomplishments in life, George Takei's place in history is secure for originating the role of Enterprise helmsman Hikaru Sulu on the original "Star Trek" series and six subsequent feature films. Having a person of Japanese descent on the bridge of the Enterprise (and occasionally in command) was groundbreaking, just over a generation after one of the most shameful periods in American history when Japanese-Americans, including Takei's own family, were placed in internment camps during World War II for suspected disloyalty.

Takei's work at breaking down stereotypes, along with his later efforts for human and LGBTQ+ rights, dovetail nicely with his voice work in the new animated feature film, "Paws of Fury: The Legend of Hank." Based loosely on the 1973 Mel Brooks comedy classic "Blazing Saddles," the film follows Hank (Michael Cera), a running-out-of-options dog who is chosen by the local land baron, a cat named Ika Chu (Ricky Gervais), to become the samurai protector of the small village of Kakamucho. However, Ika Chu has a secret agenda: He hopes that installing a dog as samurai in a town full of cats will help him complete his plan of destroying the village entirely, because it obstructs the view from his palace.

Ika is aided in his plot by a private army of ninjas led by his loyal henchman Ohga, voiced by Takei. With its timely message of overcoming differences and prejudices to work together for common goals and justice, "Paws of Fury" is right in Takei's wheelhouse. "The lessons to be learned from history are ways to deal with the problems of today," Takei tells Looper. "How much more entertaining a way can you resurrect history than with anime, via entertainment?"

George Takei on voice acting and the surprising inspiration for Paws of Fury

Tell us what drew you to take on this role.

It was a job, but it was ... I live for interesting jobs. This was interesting, Mel Brooks' idea, but it's going to be anime, only voice, and I love working with my voice. I love voice acting. I took it on and it's resulted, after about seven years, in this project, "Paws of Fury: The Legend of Hank."

It's a combination of "Blazing Saddles" and an Akira Kurosawa movie in a way – a version of Brooks' movie and the kinds of themes you see in Kurosawa's work.

More like the Kurosawa movies. As a matter of fact, "Blazing Saddles" is a Western cowboy movie, and it was totally unrelated to that, other than the fact that Mel Brooks did that. Mel Brooks is doing this, but Akira Kurosawa's samurai films are classics, they're legendary. Two of them, "Yojimbo" and "Seven Samurai," [are] the real inspiration for "Paws of Fury: The Legend of Hank," because it's the opposites coming together, where there's a lot of suffering, and the opposites learning from each other. To put the whole story in a nutshell, the problems are resolved and people live happily ever after.

Why Paws of Fury resonates with George Takei's life as an activist

The themes of this movie — of opposites learning how to cooperate and learn together — are themes you like to stress when you're doing human rights work and things like that, aren't they?

Exactly, because we live in a turbulent society and there are lessons to be learned from history. I, as a child, was imprisoned in the American barbed wire prison camps because we happen to look just like the people that bombed Pearl Harbor. I've been an activist on that as well as the fact that I'm gay, but through most of my adult life, I was closeted and it's by actively participating — I came out in 2005, very late — when I was 68, I came out, and I worked with the human rights campaign to work for equality for LGBT people. All these [are] issues that we still see today, and we know that today America is very fractured, [demonstrated by] every breaking news [story] on TV or the front page of the newspaper and there you are, the turbulence of our society.

The lessons to be learned from history are ways to deal with the problems of today and how much more entertaining a way can you resurrect history than with anime, via entertainment? Engage and entertain, not just people, but families coming together and in the theaters because we've been out of theaters for more than two years because of COVID, and this brings us together as a community of moviegoers and seeing this entertaining and hilarious, laugh-out-loud and enlightening movie.

"Paws of Fury: The Legend of Hank" is in theaters this Friday, July 15.