You Only Live Twice is an odd one… It has great stuff like the first (and eternally parodied) Blofeld in person, the volcano lair (also parodied into oblivion) and a great set of climax scenes, but it also has the awkward 60s idea of Japan, with ninjas, “in Japan men come first, women come second, Mr. Bond-san”, and James Bond “becoming a Japanese” by being painted slightly yellow, given slightly slanty eyes and a bowl haircut… A mixed bag, but at least it’s a fun mixed bag!
An American NASA spacecraft is hijacked from orbit by an unidentified spacecraft. The United States suspect it to be the work of the Soviets, but the British suspect Japanese involvement since the spacecraft landed in the Sea of Japan. MI6 operative James Bond (who had recently faked his own death) is sent to Tokyo to investigate…
*spoilers appear from here on out!*
Cast of Characters:
“Bet you didn’t see this coming!”
James Bond (Sean Connery) – MI6 agent with a thing for the ladies, even if that thing ends up leaving him about to be killed at an alarming rate…
Ernst Stavro Blofeld (Donald Pleasence) – Head of SPECTRE, and with plans to start a nuclear war. Bald head, eye scar, tight grey suit, stroking a cat in his volcano lair… He’s a real evil villain trendsetter!
Aki (Akiko Wakabayashi) – A female agent of the Japanese SIS who is tasked to help James Bond with his investigations… and inevitably sleep with him.
Kissy Suzuki (Mie Hama) – Also a female SIS agent paired with James Bond (after Aki was… well, murdered). She marries Bond for the purpose of his undercover work, though I’m sure they probably could’ve just forged some documents… whatever. She also sleeps with Bond.
Tiger Tanaka (Tetsuro Tamba) – Head of the Japanese SIS, Tiger has a sweet life when he’s not in the field. Unlike M though, he actually gets off his arse and takes part in missions now and again!
Helga Brandt (Karin Dor) – Ranked Number 11 in SPECTRE, Helga is assigned to help Japanese businessman and SPECTRE partner Mr. Osato in his efforts… and sleep with Bond.
Q (Desmond Llewelyn) – Head of all things gadget related, in this mission he only delivers a one-man helicopter, equipped with missiles and the like. Still, free trip to Japan for his efforts!
Plus many more!
Ninjas assault the volcano base! How often do you get to write that?
The highlight for me has to be the rather absurd final act, with ninjas repelling into the secret volcano base and having it out with a large, armed henchmen army. It’s just… weird, in the best possible way. Bond has a quick fight with generic black polar-necked lead henchman that ends with his foe falling into a piranha pit as well, before saving that day with seconds left. Let’s not forget Blofeld, fully visualised, escaping in the little monorail track that’s around the base. It’s pure chaos, and it knows it, and I love it.
I see online that the Blofeld in this film gets a lot of flack for being weak and non-threatening, but I like it. He’s the head of SPECTRE, he has people to do the heavy, intimidating work for him. He kills via rather stupid and elaborate traps instead! Like henchwoman Helga, who he has walk across a bridge over his piranha pit and then drops the bridge out for under her. Maybe not as guaranteed effective as shooting her in the head, but it gets the job done!
For all the silly 60s Japanese stuff that’s in the film (and hey, it was filmed in the 60s, so I’m trying my best not to hold it up against modern sensibilities) I do like that both Aki and later “Kissy” are actually competent agents (Aki only dying because she’s accidentally poisoned in her sleep instead of Bond by pure chance), and despite seemingly having sexy slave girls in his personal bath, Tiger Tanaka is a fun character to watch, especially when he backs up all his talking by taking part in the volcano raid.
There is a scene at the docks, which is good fun too. Bond and Aki go looking for a specific ship and end up chased by a group of Japanese thugs dressed like they’re from West Side Story. It’s a good chase, and some fun fight scenes. Speaking of which, earlier in the film Bond fights a large sumo-type thug in Mr. Osato’s office, that’s also a fun watch… Oh! And the helicopter dog fight, with Bond’s small helicopter fully kitted out with missiles and flamethrowers is just bizarre… and yes, fun! Nothing is amazing in this film, but a lot of it is enjoyably silly.
Sean Connery is still great as Bond, even if there seems to be a lack of spark that was featured in the earlier films. I mean, he did leave after this one, so maybe he was just fed up with the role and it makes subtle appearances in his acting. I don’t know, I don’t normally pick up on this stuff… Still, it doesn’t negatively impact the film, he’s still damn good.
*GASP!* Sean Connery has been replaced by a Japanese actor!
As I said, I’m trying my best not to hold this up to today’s standards, but the scene where Bond is “turned into a Japanese” is awful. As I said in the opening paragraph, he’s just painted slightly yellow, given slightly slanty eyes and a bowl haircut. To make matters worse as soon as he and “Kissy” arrive in their home he starts speaking English with his thick Scottish accent! Straight away! Let’s not even go into Bond getting “Ninja Lessons”…
The opening scenes, where Bond is seemingly killed after having just slept with a Chinese woman in Hong Kong (with the cringe-inducing “why do Chinese women taste different?” line from Mr. Bond… *shudder*) and is soon buried at sea in mummified fashion, before an MI6 sub picks him up and revives him, is… pointless. “Now your enemies think you’re dead you can go to Japan on this mission” What? If his enemies are in Japan and see him they’ll go “Look! There’s James Bond! I thought he was dead!” and that’d be that, no different than if he was alive. If anything having Bond’s picture appear in newspapers saying he was a serviceman who died might alert people to his real identity who may not have know previously… It seems to exist only so someone can tell Bond that “you only live twice” to give the movie title some on-the-nose meaning…
I never got why Blofeld went to the trouble of creating a rocket that can swallow another rocket in space, bring it back to the surface, and then go back up again… Wouldn’t it have been easier if he sent a rocket up into space that could fire a missile and blow up the US and Russian space shuttles? I’m pretty sure it would have the same desired effect without half as much hassle…
Speaking of not knowing why they went through the trouble, why did Helga sleep with Bond, take him up in an airplane, trap him and parachute out in order to try and kill him? Why didn’t she just… shoot him. That’s a lot of effort and risk on her part for literally no reason…
“Good evening, Mr. Bond!” … isn’t said at any point in the film, but still… Classic!
You Only Live Twice is a good Bond film, better than Thunderball in that it’s not overly long and has a more satisfying, if not far more stupid, finale, but it doesn’t reach the heights of the original three. Still plenty of fun to be had, so long as you ignore the … old fashioned aspects of the film, and have a sense of humour about it.