007’s fifth motion picture outing, You Only Live Twice, is a perfectly fine Bond movie that has some rather difficult aging issues. On one hand it stays true to the […]
007’s fifth motion picture outing, You Only Live Twice, is a perfectly fine Bond movie that has some rather difficult aging issues. On one hand it stays true to the Bond formula but embraces the inherent campiness of the series to create a fun, watchable movie. It is shot in some beautiful locations, the title track is sublime (not to be confused with the band Sublime who, as of 2020, have not performed a Bond title track and unfortunately it is next to impossible that this will ever happen), but the movie has a lot of issues that have come with it’s age that might not fly as well in this modern age.
You Only Live Twice was set to be Connery’s last time playing James Bond (though he would be brought back after just one movie away) and was directed by Lewis Gilbert, the first of his three Bond directorial efforts. Joining Connery on the cast are several Japanese actors including Tetsurō Tamba as Bond’s pal Tiger and Mie Hama as Kissy Suzuki. Look, it’s better to just embrace the fact that a lot of the Bond girls are gonna have silly names at this point. An interesting note: the screenplay was written by none other than Roald Dahl – an old pal of Ian Fleming back in their intelligence officer days. It made $111.6 million at the box office on its $10.3 million budget – drawing $30 million less than Thunderball.
The film opens with an American spacecraft being swallowed by a mysterious bigger spacecraft. This being the Cold War and still very much during the big space race between the two superpowers of the time, America naturally blame the Soviets for doing this. However, the British government has doubts and believes that the rocket may have come from Japan, so to prove the Soviet’s innocence (and to prevent World War III from breaking out), they decide to focus their investigations there.
We first see Bond in bed with a lady (naturally) but she betrays him by pulling his bed up into the wall, then gunmen shoot through the bed, killing Bond. With this being just a couple of minutes into a film called You Only Live Twice and just before the opening title was due to begin it’s safe to say there’s a little bit of shenanigans afoot. Turns out he faked his own death so the newspapers would report on it in order to fool his enemies into believing he was dead. Bond is then tasked with going to Tokyo to try and find out what the heck is the deal with the rocket.
He is approached by a girl named Aki who takes Bond to meet his contact, Mr. Henderson. However, as he is about to tell Bond who he thinks is involved in the rocket business he is stabbed in the back. Bond kills one assassin and then disguises himself to fool the other into taking him to their base – a big chemical company called Osato Chemicals. Bond steals some documents and then has to be rescued by Aki from armed guards. He is then introduced to his main buddy pal friend Tiger Tanaka.
Tiger and Bond work closely together to find any clues of the rocket’s whereabouts. During this time, a Soviet spacecraft is swallowed up by this mysterious rocket – obviously meaning the Soviets start to blame America pitting the two countries even closer to a full-scale war.
Bond, with a little help of Q and Little Nellie (it’s a helicopter that can be disassembled), finds nothing but after flying by an inactive volcano is chased by enemy attack choppers. This confirms somewhat that there is something being hidden there but he doesn’t know what. Tiger comes up with a plan to get Bond onto their island without arousing suspicion – Bond is going to disguise himself as Japanese (really), marry a local girl who is really an agent of Tiger and then train with Tiger’s army…of ninjas. Probably the biggest age issue of the entire series is right here where Bond literally is made up to look Japanese. It’s not played for a joke and there’s no bad accents but it’s still the very white Sean Connery being made up to look Japanese. Some people might not like that sort of thing these days.
The night before he is due to leave however, an assassin breaks in and tries to poison Bond in his sleep. However, he turns in his bed just in time but so does Aki who takes the full brunt of the poison and dies. Luckily she’s replaced in like ten minutes with Kissy Suzuki, Bond’s fake-wife and agent of Tiger. Bond poses as a fisherman and finds a cave full of gas. The two make their way up the volcano just in time for them to witness a helicopter land in the volcano – revealing the secret SPECTRE base within the volcano.
Bond sends Kissy to get Tiger and infiltrates the facility – freeing the captures astro and cosmonauts before disguising himself as an astronaut but does a bad enough job that the main baddie in the hood notices. Bond is brought forward to him where he reveals himself to be Blofeld, SPECTRE’s leader finally showing his hideous face after all this time.
Just as Blofeld looks like he has won, Tiger’s ninjas use the volcano opening up for the rocket launch to infiltrate the base however as he does to kill Bond, Tiger saves his life by throwing a shuriken at Blofeld’s arm causing him to flee. Bond beats up a henchman and manages to blow up the rocket just before it was able to capture the American spacecraft. The American’s immediately drop their alert and the threat of nuclear war has cooled off. Bond, Kissy, Tiger and the ninjas escape after Blofeld sets his base to self destruct and that’s your lot.
SO, the weird turning Japanese plot device aside, is You Only Live Twice a good movie? Honestly, there are parts that are super enjoyable. Like I mentioned, this is where they really leaned in on the campier parts of Bond. The giant enemy base in a volcano is an inspired touch that has been parodied to death, Blofeld’s entire appearance would be lent to Dr. Evil of Austin Powers. This film has ninjas in it, ninjas with assault rifles. This is not to be taken as seriously as a From Russia With Love.
Japan is a great choice for a Bond film as well, some of the locations they’ve filmed in looked fantastic. The hook of the title track is just *chef’s kiss* and is used throughout the film (it also was the basis of Robbie Williams’ Millenium, so that gives it an extra few points).
The premise is a bit silly looking back but it combines two of the biggest running stories of the 1960s – the Cold War and the Space Race that was birthed from said war. Blofeld’s appearance is rather memorable but it also comes super late in the film and he doesn’t get much time before he is called away.
The main criticism here is – how would this fly with someone watching it for the first time in 2020? It really depends how woke they are as there has never been any question about Bond being sexist but this film really drives home that fact with Tiger’s “in Japan, men come first, women come second” speech, which means I feel quite sorry for his sexual partners. The Japanface is hard to move on from as well – I mean I would not be surprised if actual spies have done similar things, that would make sense. It’s just weird. It could have been a lot worse but the fact that it happened might be a roadblock for some people.
So overall, I do think this is an enjoyable Bond but it’s less of an advancement of the formula and more of an exaggeration of it. The Bond formula was working so instead of trying to fix anything that was broken they decided to really go H.A.M. on it and some of it has aged really poorly. The bits that haven’t aged are still fun as heck though. This was Sean Connery’s swan song, or it was meant to be, and we would get a brand new Bond for the next film – a Mr. George Lazenby. He would last just the one film and we will see if it really was that poor….next time.