Director: Lewis Gilbert
Cast: Sean Connery, Akiko Wakabayashi, Tetsuro Tamba, Mie Hama, Teru Shimada, Bernard Lee, Lois Maxwell, Desmond Llewelyn, and Donald Pleasance
Plot: An American space shuttle is captured and the Americans blame the Russians, seeing it as an act of war. The British suspect the real culprits come from Japan, but in order to get close to them, Bond (Connery) needs to fake his own death.
The first thing that strikes you while watching ‘You Only Live Twice’ is how massive it is. While Thunderball was a fairly low key movie, this film throws a massive budget at proceedings (10 million, which was a lot in those days) and gives us massive shoot-outs between factions, space shuttles being snatched out of orbit and, most memorably, an astonishingly brilliant secret lair underneath a volcano, which pretty much gave every megalomaniacal mastermind in cinema his stereotypical base of operations.
The film opens up fairly slowly in comparison to the last two Bonds. A space shuttle is snatched during a routine mission and the Americans blame the Russians. Worried that World War Three will follow if a real culprit isn’t found, MI6 are forced to follow up a vague lead that the enemy spacecraft was spotted in Japan. Bond fakes his own death to get some old enemies off his back (let’s be honest, even Bond was pretty convinced SPECTRE was behind this whole thing from the get-go), and heads to Japan, where he teams up with Tiger Tanaka, the Japanese version of M. Before long, Bond realises that an industrialist, Mr. Osato, is a front for the real enemy and begins investigating.
I really enjoyed the Japanese theme here. Most movies cannot get over the fact that apparently all Japanese people are mostly samurais or ninjas, rather than just being Japanese. In Bond, the culture feels much more realistic. We get Sumo wrestling, Japanese massages and the Oriental architecture, but it never gets too much. I liked how the Japanese secret service comes across as an Oriental MI6. Tiger is a Japanese M and, in a way, Aki, is a Japanese 007. Sure, by the end of the movie, we get a ninja school, but it makes sense that the secret service’s army would actually be ninjas. Even then, they are clearly trained at fighting rather than just being Japanese and they actually use guns, as 21st century ninjas should be prone at doing.
When re-watching ‘You Only Live Twice’, I actually realised that there were several little things I disliked about this movie, rather than just one side of the film letting it down. My main problem was the fact that this film kind of feels like half a movie. Sure the climax is pretty exciting, but it feels short-lived. Donald Pleasance may be impressive at finally showing us the face of Blofeld, but he doesn’t actually have too much screen-time. He shows up, says some evil things and then runs away. Instead of taking him on, the final showdown tries to make it up by having Bond take on a henchman, who is stereotypical in every possible way (muscular, blond, silent). It’s a good fight, but it’s not a good climax. I enjoyed ‘You Only Live Twice’, but there is a sense that it is Part One of Two (or maybe three).
I also felt that the seduction of women was at an all-time low here. I get that this is the Sean Connery era and the women aren’t known for putting up much of a fight, but it needs to be sensible. Connery’s seduction of every woman here felt so badly written (and yes, I know that the script was penned by the amazing Roald Dahl). He would get a quiet moment and then look over at them. Sometimes he didn’t even talk, just moved in for the kiss. I couldn’t take any of the Bond girls seriously here, which was a shame, as some of them were pretty interesting characters before Bond got to them. I also have a little grudge over the character of Miss Brandt. Red-haired, evil and tricks Bond with seduction: yes, I liked Fiona Volpe, but I don’t want a carbon copy of her character in the very next film. It shows laziness, especially when her character is just a villain to keep the first half of the movie moving a little quicker.
But yes, I did like this movie, once I got past all of those flaws. The best scene was actually the scene I thought I would hate, when I looked back on this movie. Little Nellie, in theory, is a horrible machine. Q basically builds a miniature helicopter that Tiger, correctly so, mocks as a toy. Connery is far too tall a person to fit in it without seeming a little daft. But when the air battle kicks off, it just works. We get every gadget thrown into the pot and it is an exciting sequence. Even better, the almighty Bond theme is playing throughout the fight. It really makes such a powerful difference to an action scene.
Final Verdict: Despite some glaring downsides, so much money and action is thrown at ‘You Only Live Twice’ that enough sticks to make you enjoy this outing with 007.