Written by Ian Fleming, Harold Jack Bloom, and Roald Dahl
Directed by Lewis Gilbert
The most surprising fact I found out about the fifth entry in the James Bond series was that the screenplay for You Only Live Twice was written by noted children’s author Roald Dahl. Although his novels aren’t what I would call typical kiddie fare, I still would not have had his name pop into my mind when it comes to penning a Bond script.
A U.S. Space Station is abducted in space by an unknown vessel, resulting in the immediate death of one of the astronauts manning the station, and the whereabouts of the others a mystery. The U.S. government believes the Soviets are behind it since they are the only other nation on earth with space flight capabilities. The British, however, have information that the vessel which intercepted the station crashed down in the Sea of Japan. They have sent their “best man” on the job.
That man is Bond (portrayed by Sean Connery). He’s not quite “on the job”. As usual, he’s dallying with a beautiful woman. Only this dalliance might just cost him his life if the bloodstains are to be believed.
Well, not quite or the movie would have been over fairly quickly. His death was staged and he is brought aboard a British submarine where Mrs. Moneypenny and M await (portrayed by Lois Maxwell and Bernard Lee, respectively). M gives him the assignment – to find out who is behind the abduction of the space station before the Soviets or Americans launch another one. Since no one is quite sure when the Soviets will launch, there might not be much time.
This assignment takes Bond to Japan and immerses him in the culture while forming an alliance with his Japanese counterparts. Tiger Tanaka (portrayed by Tetsuro Tamba) and a female agent known only as Aki (portrayed by Akiko Wakabayashi) not only provide support but nearly take over the film. When Aki is killed during an assassination attempt on Bond, another female slides in to take her place. Following Ninja training, Bond travels to an island near where it’s believed the offending vessel came from. Kissy Suzuki (portrayed by Mie Hama) poses as his wife to give his cover some validity, although she is reluctant to be his wife in every sense of the word.
The intrigue of You Only Live Twice is both good and bad. I liked seeing SPECTRE back in the picture as the evil entity Bond must battle. The first glimpse of Ernest Stavro Blofeld (portrayed by Donald Pleasence), who is the true villain here, made me laugh. That’s unfortunate. However, in the ensuing years, seeing a villain stroking a cat has taken on a new meaning. His portrayal here has been spoofed quite well by Michael Myers.
The way You Only Live Twice is written, Bond almost takes a back seat at times to his Japanese allies. I would almost have said it was setting up the Japanese characters for a spin-off the way it is structured. After a great performance in Thunderball, Connery seems less enthusiastic here. Part of it is the fault of the story which has him taking a back seat to so much of the action and the new characters. The other part was by this point portraying the character was wearing on the actor. With pressure from the Japanese paparazzi getting to him, Connery announced that this was the last time he would portray the British super-spy. He would end up appearing twice more in films as Bond, but this film seems to have marked a turning point in what Connery thought of the role and it shows.
There are many instances where the film really stretches believability, moreso than in previous films. There is the improbability of gadget-meister Q (portrayed by Desmond Llewelyn) showing up with the gyrocopter just as Bond can make use of it. It would also require a great stretch of the imagination that he could pass for a Japanese man, with or without the Ninja training. This angle was a nice growth of the character, however. Being trained in the ways of the ninja would be a great way to build on the spy’s resources in the future – would the series producers use it?
The sets are outstanding and the scenery is beautiful. Having a totally different setting such as Japan over the lush tropical beauty of the previous film was an excellent contrast while the cinematographer made the most of the beauty of the cityscapes as well as the lush countryside. If you never thought of the outer islands of Japan as being as beautiful as some in the Caribbean or others in the South Pacific, you will after this film.
I really enjoyed the special features on the DVD. The Inside You Only Live Twice featurette really shows how the Bond series had become incredibly popular. And gave insight into how certain aspects of this film came about.
While not the strongest of the Bond films, You Only Live Twice is a lot of fun to watch. Connery wasn’t quite up to snuff, so it was probably good that he temporarily hung up his spy shoes after this. The gadgets are fun and the new characters get plenty of airtime and hold their own, although it might have been too much time on them. The setting is beautiful and quite different. All in all, a decent film even if it wasn’t one of the top ones.
• Inside You Only Live Twice
• Silhouettes – The James Bond Titles
• Audio Commentary with Director Lewis Gilbert & Members of the Cast & crew
• Animated Storyboard Sequence: The Plane Crash
• Trailers/TV Spot
• Radio Spots
Previous film in the series (link): Thunderball
Next film in the series (link): On Her Majesty’s Secret Service