Based on Ian Fleming’s novel, You Only Live Twice is the story of James Bond heading to Japan to stop SPECTRE from furthering the tension between the U.S. and Soviet Union over incidents relating to their space programs where Bond finally meets up with SPECTRE’s leader Ernst Stavro Blofeld. Directed by Lewis Gilbert and screenplay by Roald Dahl (with additional work by Harold Jack Bloom), the film is another ambitious story where Bond travels to different places to face SPECTRE as Sean Connery once again plays Bond while Donald Pleasence plays the mysterious Blofeld. Also starring Mie Hama, Akiko Wakabayashi, Tetsuro Tamba, Karin Dor, Lois Maxwell, Desmond Llewelyn, and Bernard Lee as M. You Only Live Twice is a grand yet exciting film from Lewis Gilbert.
After faking his death in Hong Kong to sway attention from his enemies, James Bond is assigned to uncover a mysterious plot that involved a U.S. space capsule captured by a rocket that had landed somewhere in Japan. In hoping that the incident doesn’t spark World War III, Bond travels to Japan to meet his contact Henderson (Charles Gray) where things go wrong until he secretly goes into a building to find secret documents from an industrialist named Mr. Osato (Teru Shimada). After giving the documents to a Japanese secret service agent in Tiger Tanaka (Tetsuro Tamba), Bond suspects that Osato has something to do with the incident as he pretends to a businessman to meet Osato and his assistant Helga Brandt (Karin Dor).
After Bond and an agent named Aki (Akiko Wakabayahi) went to Osato’s dock to inspect his boat, things go wrong when Bond is captured by Osato and Brandt where the latter tries to seduce him and later kill him. Bond manages to escape where Q (Desmond Llewelyn) and Tanaka help Bond to inspect the mysterious island that is believed where the secret rocket is launched. Though Bond doesn’t find anything, he is later attacked by helicopters where he manages to out maneuver them thanks to Q’s additions in the helicopter Bond is flying. Still, Bond decides to hide out in Tanaka’s secret base to train as a ninja following an incident where a Soviet space capsule was captured leading to more U.S.-USSR tension.
With the help of an agent named Kissy Suzuki (Mie Hama), Bond and Kissy masquerade as a married Japanese couple to trek around a mysterious island where they make a big discovery. Just as the U.S. is set to launch another space capsule, Bond finally meets the man who organized everything in SPECTRE’s leader Ernst Stavro Blofeld.
The film is simply about James Bond traveling to Japan to uncover a plot to sabotage the dueling U.S.-Soviet Union space missions in an attempt to start World War III. While in his mission, he faces numerous foes who try to kill him where he would eventually meet the man who organized the whole thing in Ernst Stavro Blofeld. In meeting Blofeld, Bond gets a chance to confront the man he had been fighting against for the past few years after foiling Blofeld’s plans since Dr. No. While Blofeld might not be a strong villain as he always has people doing his dirty work, he is still a very intriguing villain for the way he organizes schemes and will not let anyone get in his way or mess things up for him. Even if it’s someone from his own organization where if someone from his group messes up, he takes care of that someone in the most gruesome way.
Roald Dahl’s screenplay does play to a lot of what is expected in the Bond formula in the way he goes about in his mission to do some investigating, fighting, and making out with women. Yet, the story opens with two big scenes to set up the story such as the U.S. Gemini capsule being captured and then Bond in Hong Kong where he fakes his death. By faking his death, Bond has to go undercover to Japan to find out what is going on as he deals with a shady industrialist and several assassins that will eventually lead him to Blofeld. One of the script’s great strengths is in the few people that assist Bond such as Tiger Tanaka and Aki. The latter of which is among one of the most interesting Bond girls who aids Bond in his work while being someone who can hold her own. While the other Bond girl in Kissy Suzuki only arrives in the third act, she’s also interesting since she is a great swimmer as well as a skilled assassin.
Lewis Gilbert’s direction is definitely big for the way he creates amazing action sequences and suspenseful moments. While some of it does require visual effects which were quite primitive in the mid-1960s, it does play to the world that Bond is in as it includes some amazing scenes set in outer space such as the opening prologue scene. By having Bond go to Hong Kong and later Japan, the film definitely has a different atmosphere since Bond has to learn about the world of Japanese culture where he would eventually disguise himself as a Japanese man late in the film.
Gilbert’s approach to suspense is engaging for the way he sets up having characters being killed off as well as the big unveiling of Blofeld who never had shown his face in the previous films. His unveiling is a big moment where Gilbert reveals what kind of man Blofeld is where it would lead to this huge climatic battle with vast compositions for Gilbert to present. With a lot of stylistic shots that includes a few hand-held stuff, Gilbert does create a very extravagant yet thrilling film that is among one of the great films of the Bond franchise.
Cinematographer Freddie Young does excellent work with the photography to capture the gorgeous landscape of the Japanese locations including some nighttime shots of Tokyo as well as some great lighting set-ups for the scenes inside Blofeld‘s home base. Editor Peter R. Hunt does brilliant work with the editing to create amazing rhythmic cuts for the film‘s action scenes along with some stylish jump cuts and dissolves to play with the film‘s rhythm. Production designer Ken Adam, with set decorator David Ffolkes and art director Harry Pottle, does spectacular work with the set pieces such as Blofeld’s home base that included a pond for his piranhas as well as the traditional Japanese houses that Bond would live in.
The special effects work of John Stears is very good for the way the scenes in space looked as well as a few visual effects driven work such as Bond on the mini-helicopter as well as some of the car chase scenes. Sound recorders Gordon K. McCallum and John W. Mitchell do terrific work with the sound to capture the atmosphere of the sumo building where Bond meets Aki as well as the big climatic battle at Blofeld‘s base involving ninjas. The film’s score by John Barry is among one of Barry’s best score for the lush string arrangements that he creates for the film’s theme that includes traditional Japanese string instruments. The title song co-written with lyricist Leslie Bricusse and sung by Nancy Sinatra is a gorgeous ballad that plays to the world of Japan as it is one of the top songs of the Bond theme songs.
The casting by Weston Drury Jr. is superb for the ensemble that is created as it includes some small but memorable roles from Tsai Chin as Bond’s Hong Kong lover, Charles Gray as Henderson, Ronald Rich as Blofeld’s bodyguard Hans, and Teru Shimada as the powerful industrialist Mr. Osato. Other notable small roles from Bond regulars include Lois Maxwell as the very witty Miss Moneypenny who gives Bond a memorable code word, Desmond Llewelyn as the very funny Q, and Bernard Lee as Bond’s no-nonsense boss M. Karin Dor is very good as Osato’s secretary Helga Brandt who tries to have Bond killed and later seduce him in an another assassination attempt. Tetsuro Tamba is excellent as the resourceful and disciplined Tiger Tanaka who helps Bond in his mission to stop SPECTRE.
Mie Hama is wonderful as Kissy Suzuki who aids Bond in the film’s climatic mission while pretending to be his traditional Japanese line where she and Sean Connery have a few funny moments. Akiko Wakabayashi is great as the Japanese agent Aki who helps Bond throughout the film as she proves to be a very smart and helpful woman who does more than the typical Bond girl. Donald Pleasence is excellent in his small but memorable role as Ernst Stavro Blofeld where Pleasence definitely lives up to the megalomania of Blofeld with a creepy voice as well as a dark sense of humor. Finally, there’s Sean Connery in a fantastic performance as James Bond. Although there’s nothing new that Connery brings to the character, Connery does make Bond compelling enough as well as presenting new challenges that does shake Bond’s sense of professionalism as well as the mission at hand.
You Only Live Twice is a marvelous film from Lewis Gilbert with another winning performance from Sean Connery. Thanks to great set pieces, beautiful locations, John Barry’s exquisite score, and a top-notch ensemble cast. The film is definitely among one of key James Bond films during Sean Connery’s period as Agent 007. It’s also a very engaging film for the way it sets up the idea of World War III giving the audience a chance to root for Bond once again. In the end, You Only Live Twice is a superb film from Lewis Gilbert.
James Bond Files: The EON Films: Dr. No - From Russia with Love - Goldfinger - Thunderball - On Her Majesty’s Secret Service - Diamonds Are Forever - Live & Let Die - The Man with the Golden Gun - The Spy Who Loved Me - Moonraker - For Your Eyes Only - Octopussy - A View to a Kill - The Living Daylights - Licence to Kill - GoldenEye - Tomorrow Never Dies - The World is Not Enough - Die Another Day - Casino Royale (2006 film) - Quantum of Solace - Skyfall
Non-EON Films: Casino Royale (Climax! TV Episode) - Casino Royale (1967 film) - Never Say Never Again
Bond Documentaries: Bond Girls Are Forever - True Bond - Everything or Nothing: The Untold Story of 007
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