Mission Dossier: You Only Live Twice
The Year: 1967
The Director: Lewis Gilbert
The Bond: Sean Connery
The Girl: Akiko Wakabayashi as Aki and Mie Hama as Kissy Suzuki
The Baddie: SPECTRE’s big guy, Ernst Blofeld.
The James Bond show goes on tour in You Only Live Twice which takes the viewer on a tourist’s tour of Japan – sumo wrestling, the bright neon lights of Tokyo, ninjas and so on.
SPECTRE is back in town, this time spearheaded by their Number 1 Ernst Blofeld now sporting his iconic shaved head. The organisation manages to steal spaceships from both the Americans and the Russians which leaves both countries blaming the other and the world on the brink of World War III. The title refers to the oft copied, but here I think pretty original, conceit of Bond faking his own death in order to get SPECTRE and other enemies off his tail. It is interesting that the Bourne films were so praised for their realistic brand of film hand-to-hand combat because I think these early Connery films do that really well. The Judo influenced action looks rough and tumble, as long as the finger is kept away from the fast forward button which it predominately is in this film. Coupled with some of these excellent fight scenes is probably the series’ first extended car chase. Involving a helicopter with a huge magnet of course. Despite a decent first half though, there is a blandness to the script as well as some of the cringeworthiness that will plague many of the worst Bond films, especially the one that follows this one. Summing up how poor and unoriginal the script is is the fact that Blofeld utilises murderous man-eating piranhas, only one film following a villain who used man-eating sharks to slay his foes. A bit too soon really.
There is an uncomfortable exoticism about how the Japanese are presented in the film, not to mention the ‘yellow face’ makeup that Connery’s Bond ends up in which is really unfortunate. Obviously the James Bond series is not a bastion of great progressive values, but even so, the disrespect of another culture and women in this one is jarring. The constant referring to a woman that Bond is forced to marry as having the “face of a pig” to go with the racial aspects I have mentioned above round out an uncomfortable aspect that the film has. Some of the space sequences of the film provide a bit of a precursor to those that will follow in the Roger Moore starring Moonraker (1979). But they also show off some woeful special effects that are far worse than many films that were made even before this one. The poor quality of the effects is a real distraction. It also mars the aerial sequences of the film. They are not bad enough to ruin an excellent dogfight scene involving Bond’s baby helicopter Little Nelly, but they give it a fair shake. But neither of these are anywhere near as bad as the rubbish stock footage of a volcano that mars the film’s finale. These poor effects throughout give the film a cheap feel that a film of this sort of budget should definitely be able to avoid. The central villain of the piece, Blofeld, is surely the greatest in the series. Here there is a fantastic scene where Blofeld reveals his scarred face to Bond. It is a shame that the character, played so well by Donald Pleasence, is not onscreen for near enough time to save this film.
In comparison to the first four classics that preceded it, You Only Live Twice is undeniably flat. There are some exciting moments, some of the chases and fistfights for example. But the unsavoury atmosphere of the Japan set parts of the film coupled with a bland overall story despite a couple of excellent ideas, means that this is easily the weakest entry in the series so far. It is incredibly disappointing that the ultimate villainous lair – inside a volcano! – is so wasted by featuring in this film.
Verdict: Schooner of Carlton Draught
- Thunderball (1965)
- Goldfinger (1964)
- Dr No (1962)
- From Russia with Love (1963)
- You Only Live Twice (1967)