You Only Live Twice Review - By Jake

You Only Live Twice poster

"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!
You Only Live Twice Ken Adam

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 cinematic Bond.

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.
you only live twice connery white cat

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.
Pleasance Blofeld

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.

- Jake


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