You Only Live Twice Review - By Jake
"The things I do for England."
You Only Live Twice is the fifth film in the James Bond series and was
originally released in 1967. It was the first film in the series to be
based on an original screenplay rather than a Fleming novel and written
by popular children's author Roald Dahl. Fleming's story of an amnesiac
Bond stalking Blofeld in a strange Japanese castle was discarded in
favour of an outlandish script which sees the United States and Soviet
Union played off against each other by SPECTRE in an attempt to start
World War III. SPECTRE is hijacking spacecraft in orbit and hoping that
the two powers will blame each other. James Bond (Sean Connery) is sent
to investigate by the British government and the trail leads to Ernst
Stavro Blofeld (Donald Pleasance), here having his first onscreen
encounter with 007...
You Only Live Twice is widely regarded to be one of the dafter James
Bond films but a hugely entertaining one nevertheless. The film
continues the trend towards larger than life mayhem and gadgets and is
most famous for Ken Adam's incredible production design which created a
gigantic hollowed out volcano set for Blofeld's base, including a
sliding roof and monorail. You Only Live Twice was by some distance the
most expensive Bond film in the series upon its release and is notable
for its many action sequences, polished look, and good use of Japanese
locales. One thing the film did accomplish was to hasten the exit of
Sean Connery who was increasingly tired of the Bond circus and fearful
of being typecast. A Japanese journalist trying to follow Connery into
a toilet for an impromptu interview is usually held up as the final
straw for the actor!
It's easy to see You Only Live Twice as the template for the large,
fantasy oriented James Bond films that followed later on in the
seventies like The Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker and it's no
coincidence that Lewis Gilbert directed all three of these films.
Gilbert was a reliable contributor to the franchise and especially
adept at handling big technical films with plenty of action.
The PTS for You Only Live Twice begins with a spacecraft being
swallowed by a mysterious vessel in orbit. While the special-effects
look a bit wobbly and crude to modern eyes, the majestic strains of
John Barry's 'Space March' help to develop a palpable sense of
impending doom. We then cut to Bond being 'murdered' in bed - "Why do
Chinese girls taste different from all other girls?" - in Hong Kong.
007 is not really dead but the authorities believe he'll have an
advantage if his enemies think he is. Bond is subsequently buried at
sea with an 'aqualung' and recovered by a Royal Navy submarine.
"Request permission to come aboard, sir?" says Bond in his Royal
Navy uniform. This is a scene that is very in character with the
The title sequence by Maurice Binder is excellent and Nancy Sinatra's
theme song might just be the best in the series. Both should be an
object lesson to the people running the franchise now.
While You Only Live Twice struggles sometimes to establish a clear
sense of motivation and coherence it does have some very memorable
sequences and never fails to entertain. There is some safecracking fun
- safecracking always seems to me like something James Bond would do
(or have done) a lot - and an agreeable sense of local colour and
location (a scene at a sumo wrestling match for example). There is
something enjoyably retro and sixties about Bond falling through a
trapdoor and sliding down to find Tiger Tanaka (Tetsuro Tamba), the
Head of Japanese secret service and a famous sequence where 007,
investigating the SPECTRE affiliated Osato (Teru Shimada), fights
countless characters in a running fight scene on a dockside ship. It's
a trifle over the top but with John Barry's music it becomes exciting
and slightly epic.
The most notable gadget in the film is of course 'Little Nellie', an
autogyro mini helicopter. Little Nellie is piloted by Bond in a big
action sequence that suffers a little from some of the back projection
work but is highly entertaining nonetheless with great use of the James
Bond theme. "Little Nellie got a hot reception," says Bond. "Four big
shots made improper advances toward her, but she defended her honor
with great success." Probably the most risible part of the film though
is Bond's fake marriage to Mie Hama's Kissy, or rather his Japanese
'disguise' for this. I'm not sure that Sean Connery could ever have
realistically convinced anyone that he was actually Japanese!
You Only Live Twice does though have one of the things I miss about old
James Bond films; the big battle sequence ending. There is all manner
of action in Blofeld's volcano base at the end of the picture including
an attack by Ninja allies of Bond, who, in a nicely staged sequence,
drop in on ropes. The confrontation between Bond and Blofeld is a bit
of an anti-climax perhaps but the end of the film provides an awful lot
of spectacle and value for money.
Donald Pleasance doesn't have too much to do as Blofeld but, with the
addition of a scar (because it was felt Pleasance lacked menace), he
has a distinctive appearance and a couple of droll lines. Akiko
Wakabyashi and Mie Hama are pleasant enough as the two principle 'Bond
girls' and apparently swapped roles when it was discovered that Hama's
English was better. Karin Dor is Helga Brandt, a SPECTRE assassin, and
has a memorable scene where she has Bond strapped to a chair and the
henchman tradition is continued by Ronald Rich as Hans.
Charles Gray, who later played Blofeld in Diamonds Are Forever, has a
smallish part as MI6 contact Henderson and series regulars Bernard Lee,
Lois Maxwell and Desmond Llewelyn all return.
"Look, 007, I've had a long and tiring journey, probably to no purpose, and I'm in no mood for your juvenile quips!"
Sean Connery was generally felt to be coasting along at this point and
You Only Live Twice is often cited as the first 007 performance that
the actor telephoned in. There may be slight elements of that, for we
know that Connery was bored of the role by now, but he's still Sean
Connery. If one was forced to choose, his performances in Thunderball
and Goldfinger were a tad more enthusiastic but he's still deadly with
a dry quip and fun.
You Only Live Twice falls below the best sixties Bond films like
Goldfinger, From Russia With Love and On Her Majesty's Secret Service,
but can hold its own with many of the 007 adventures produced in the
following decades for lavish production, grand scale mayhem, gadgets,
locales, and good old fashioned entertainment. The film certainly has
its flaws and seems more formulaic than its predecessors but, with John
Barry's music and Ken Adam's production design, there is much to enjoy.
You Only Live Twice is not quite classic Bond but it is an awful lot of fun.