“ Welcome to Japan, Mr. Bond…”
Hello everyone and welcome to the fifth installment in my series of reviews covering the James Bond film franchise. Tonight the movie we will be examining is 1967’s ‘You Only Live Twice’. First off, as always we will start by covering the principle information regarding the overall quality of the film and a few other incidentals. This was the fifth consecutive film in the series to feature the one and only Sean Connery in the role of secret agent James Bond. Up until now he was the only James Bond that most people had ever known and the role fit him like a well tailored suit. It may have begun to fit him a little too well in fact, as in this film you can clearly see at some points what appears to be a rather uninspired and somewhat bored performance coming from everyone’s favorite Scotsman. That’s not to say that it was a bad or boring performance by any means, as to even conjecture that that could be possible would be bordering on James Bond blasphemy to many; myself included. You could say that his boredom here was mostly forgivable as far as it related to the rather formulaic and lackluster material at hand, but my main point here is that if you were to compare the Sean Connery of this movie to the Sean Connery of From Russia With Love or the Sean Connery of Goldfinger you would see highlighted before you the absolute night and day difference between an actor that is clearly having fun and relishing his work and an actor who is simply putting in one more day at the office and cashing in a paycheck so to speak.
And while the plot was very formulaic and mechanical to be sure, as most every other Bond movie would be after this one and as the last few before this one had been, it was still a pretty solid set up all things considered, and provided the perfect base for Bond to play off of throughout, so in the end the issue of Connery’s ‘phoning it in’ here if I can use that phrase may boil down to nothing more than just him simply getting tired of having to be James Bond, as hard as that may be to imagine or accept for many people. All that being said though, this movie still packs quite the proverbial wallop in a few select places, and makes for more than adequate Saturday afternoon entertainment for any fan of classic 1960s popcorn action movies and spy flicks in general. It’s got all the usual wit, style, gadgets, and action, plus one of the best casts in the history of the franchise. I say that because I want to make sure I present a balanced perspective here, as even though I personally would probably consider this movie to be Sean Connery’s overall weakest effort in his original series of James Bond films, it is certainly not without its high points, and I would say for the most part anyway, it is a thoroughly watchable movie all the way through. Lastly, before moving onto the plot, this movie was the first from the noted Bond director Lewis Gilbert who in later years would give us two classic Roger Moore era Bond movies in ‘The Spy Who Loved Me’ and ‘Moonraker’..
Now as to that plot I was talking about in the above paragraphs. It involves this time around yet another scheme to start World War III by, surprise, surprise… good old S.P.E.C.T.R.E. This time their proposal involves launching their own space ship interceptor from their remote spot in the Sea of Japan to capture the recently launched ships of both the United States and the Soviet Union, knowing each nation will in the end blame each other, and that the ensuing political and public outrage will force one nation or the other to call for all out war. As this is all getting underway, British secret service decides they need a new way to protect their top agent. The method they choose is somewhat on the extreme side though. They have him killed. Sort of anyway, as in the beginning of this movie Bond fakes his death and is then reported murdered in a series of international newspaper headlines that float across the screen. This move serves the dual purpose of both getting those tiresome S.P.E.C.T.R.E assassins off his back and giving him the breathing room he will need to complete his most recent assignment, that being the location and interruption of the aforementioned plot to start a third world war between two international superpowers. So with that established, after a touching funeral procedure on board a large Navy vessel and a proper burial at see, Commander Bond is then brought on board a Royal Submarine and properly debriefed about his latest mission from Ms. Moneypenney and M before being whisked straight away to Japan.
Helping Bond along in this movie is a series of people involved in one way or another with Japanese special intelligence, the first being a man named Henderson who gives Bond some useful information when he first arrives, and the second and primary one being a man named Tiger Tanaka, who aside from heading up the Japanese secret service and having his own private underground subway train, also has his own ninja school. How cool is that? This is a guy with as much wit, refinement, and tactical support as Bond himself, and who will show up more than once just in the nick of time when it appears our hero is just about to be disposed of by the bad guys. James Bond and Tiger Tanaka enjoy a very gracious rapport with one another in this movie, exchanging various clever remarks and compliments at different times. Bond apparently respects Tanaka enough that when he gets the particulars of how to make his favorite alcoholic beverage mixed up (he commits what may be the one unpardonable sin in early Bond films in stirring rather than shaking Bond’s martini), Bond does not correct him. In the end Bond becomes so close with Tanaka and his gang that he undergoes a puzzling process to make himself look like one of them (for reasons of concealment you see), which involves stick on eye brows, a whacky wig, and gasp a full on chest wax. The site of Sean Connery in full on Asian costume for me was one of the low points of this movie, as he didn’t for one second appear to be anything other than Sean Connery, except that he was saddled with a ridiculous get up instead of his usual smooth tuxedo. If anything this move only made him stand out more rather than conceal his identity.
One of the huge strengths of ‘You Only Live Twice’ and my personal favorite element of it is the villains, provided here by the seedy Japanese industrialist and S.P.E.C.T.R.E affiliate Mr. Osato, and the man behind the majority of the plots of most of the previous Bond movies, who up until this movie was a nameless, faceless, leader of the aforementioned criminal enterprise known only as ‘Number One’, that being one Ernst Stavro Blofeld played here in all his bald headed glory by the late great Donald Pleasence. Mr. Osato makes for a completely acceptable secondary villain to Blofeld’s unquestioned supremacy. Blofeld though, deserves extra special mention here, as he was and is the very living epitome of what a good Bond villain should be. He’s super intelligent, crafty, but also hopelessly inept in certain areas as it relates to dealing with one agent Double O’ Seven. Donald Pleasence did such a memorable job here as the conniving scar faced super villain that his particular portrayal of the character in large part would eventually inspire the later Austin Powers franchise character of ‘Dr. Evil’ played with mocking affection by Mike Myers. Another plus here for our villain Blofeld in this film is that he is given a very elaborate secret location in an inactive underground volcano complete with working television sets, groovy retro furniture, and of course, a pool filled with several ravenous and insatiable man eating Piranhas. This secret lair is the location where our hero finally gets to meet his unseen tormentor of all the previous years gone by and also where the final battle between Blofeld’s forces and Tanaka’s highly trained ninja army will take place.
Now for the lighters issues, this movie is among the few I can think of where James Bond is not to be found behind the wheel of his trademark customized Aston Martin. However, it does somewhat make up for that by a very fun little sequence featuring another one of Q’s endless unique inventions, that being a miniature helicopter outfitted with more rockets, bombs, and other assorted weaponry than you would probably find on most fully sized modern day Apache Helicopters. Another fun piece of gadgetry here is a deadly cigarette that will give you a whole new perception on the issue of second hand smoke. For the Bond girls featured in this film, there are a plethora to choose from, most of them being of the Asian variety such as Ling who we find Bond with at the beginning of the film in Hong Kong shortly before he is ‘killed’, Aki, who assists Bond while he is in Japan, and finally Kissy who is with Bond in the latter stages of the film and is the girl he is given to in a sham marriage that seemed to me at least, a very odd and unnecessary element of the movie. Besides them there are also many other Oriental beauties who indulge Mr. Bond in a sponge bath at one point. Bond’s main ally at this point, Tiger Tanaka explains to Bond that in Japan “men come first, women second” to which Bond states “I may just retire to here” a line that would have caused the movie to be demonstrated against undoubtedly had it not been released in the era it was. That being said, the women in this film all sort of blend in with one another to the point of becoming almost indistinguishable. This is mainly due to a combination of having very little in the way of original dialogue given to them and secondly because of their similar appearances as well. The only girl who really stands out is red headed S.P.E.C.T.R.E assassin Helga Brandt, who is quite alluring and mischievous in the all too few scenes she is given in the film.
To finish off my review here and sum up what I said in the opening paragraphs, I’d say ‘You Only Live Twice’ is a very middle of the road James Bond movie. It has a couple aspects that make it stand out against the crowd for the committed Bond fanatic, but overall, it’s nowhere near either my top or bottom handful of movies in this series in terms of overall quality, although I have seen it placed among both of those categories by many different people during my research for this review. So with that said I think a three and one half star rating here is mostly appropriate. As for recommending this movie, I’ll put this one under the heading of ‘see it if it happens to be on television’ or if you should run across it on the cheap at a DVD or Blu-Ray store, especially if it comes loaded with lots of bonus features that is. That being said, if you are just a casual viewer, you certainly could find better or worse ways to kill two hours. If you are a major Bond fan however, this movie probably is essential viewing based on the unveiling of Blofeld alone, which is a major event for the franchise in that he will be the only Bond villain to be the main malevolent force behind and the focal point and face in front of three consecutive Bond movies. Thanks everyone for reading. Next time out we have a very different sort of Bond movie to review, and for the first time in this series, we will even have a different actor portraying him to boot. So make sure and be on the lookout for that, as I can assure you that James Bond will most definitely return next time in our review of ‘On Her Majesty’s Secret Service’.