Lewis Gilbert, 1967
Starring: Sean Connery, Mie Hama, Donald Pleasance, Karin Dor, Akiko Wakabayashi
The fifth entry in the Connery run of Bond films, You Only Live Twice is really the first to engage in full scale ridiculousness, the sort normally restricted to Roger Moore. Connery, who wanted to retire from the franchise at this point, is clearly phoning in his performance, and the plot is so formulaic that Bond feels largely irrelevant.
Bond fakes his own death and is sent to Tokyo to investigate the recent hijacking of an American spacecraft. He teams up with Japanese secret service leader Tiger Tanaka and his beautiful assistant Aki. Bond discovers a connection between SPECTRE and local company Osato Chemicals. Mr. Osato predictably tries to have Bond killed by his foxy assistant, Helga Brandt. Bond survives and rushes to locate Osato and SPECTRE’s Number 1, Blofeld, who are holed up in a secret underground base, trying to instigate war between the United States and the Soviet Union.
You Only Live Twice is an odd mixture of entertainment and absurdity that will irritate fans of more serious Bond fare or delight fans of the more comical, whimsical later films. Even though I do enjoy it, my biggest issue with the film is that by this point the series feels tired. The far fetched plot, penned by the incredible Roald Dahl, is the first script to disregard most of Fleming’s source novel, which Dahl claimed to be unfilmable. The plot unfortunately relies on a sort of comic laziness to move events forward. Why come up with flawed, incredibly elaborate plans to kill Bond when you could just as easily shoot him in the head? There are a number of dull actions sequences, including the downright boring scenes with “Little Nellie,” the gyrocopter. Not every Bond film needs an aerial fight sequence. The film also has a dated, racist approach to Japanese culture, which culminates in a ridiculous, offensive attempt to disguise Bond as a Japanese man.
There is plenty to like about the film, namely some wildly entertaining scenes that refuses to allow plot to get in the way. Though a lot of the action is a bit dull, it will never not be satisfying for me to see a film with a ninja training school, ninja army or sumo wrestler henchmen. We finally get to see Blofeld in action and Donald Pleasance is fantastic, though he clutches that clearly terrorized white persian cat for dear life. Helga Brandt is, probably surprisingly, one of my favorite Bond girls, even though she eventually gets chucked into a pool of piranha. The delightful Mie Hama stoically endures her fake marriage to Bond. There are wonderful sets from Ken Adams and lively direction from Lewis Gilbert, who would return for the later Roger Moore efforts The Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker. There is a great score from John Barry, as always, and the theme song from Nancy Sinatra is also enjoyable, if a bit silly.
If you can suffer past the slow bits, You Only Die Twice is incredibly fun. It is available as a single-disc or 2-disc Ultimate Edition DVD, in the Ultimate Edition box set volume 4 and on Blu-ray. There are some nice special features, including a documentary (that sadly lacks input from the Japanese cast), a commentary track and much more.