You Only Live Twice
July 21, 2010 2 Comments
Year: 1967. The fifth James Bond film hit movie houses in June, 18 months after Thunderball (1965), the longest hiatus between 007 pictures up to this point. The reason; one Sean Connery. In a November 1965 interview with Playboy Magazine, Connery discussed his future as Bond. “I have only two more Bonds to do… On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and possibly You Only Live Twice. They would like to start On Her Majesty’s Secret Service in Switzerland in January, but I’m not sure I’ll be free in time and I don’t want to rush it, although they say the snow will be at its best then. I’m not going to rush anything anymore.” Thanks to the non-rushing Sir Sean, shooting on Bond 5 didn’t start until June ‘66, way to late for the skiing heavy OHMSS. So, EON was forced to move YOLT up in the queue. This was the first in a series of events that would conspire to make You Only Live Twice the first Bond film to take a step backwards, and a giant step at that.
Film Length: 1 hour 57 minutes
Bond Actor: Sean Connery. When shooting began in the summer of ‘66, Bond producers Cubby Broccoli and Harry Saltzman had a big problem on their hands; a very unhappy leading man who also happened to be the face of their multimillion dollar franchise. Connery’s disenchantment didn’t happen overnight. After staring in four demanding films in as many years, the man was simply exhausted. Never comfortable with the publicity side of Bond, while filming Thunderball (1965) in Bermuda, Connery was working long days and having to do interviews at night adding to his fatigue. It was during one of those interviews that Connery let it be known he was also becoming concerned with the direction Bond was headed telling Playboy “Each succeeding film has got bigger and the gimmicks trickier. But we have to be careful where we go next, because I think with Thunderball we’ve reached the limit as far as size and gimmicks are concerned … So all the gimmicks now have been done. And they are expected. What is needed now is a change of course–more attention to character and better dialog.” Additionally, Connery was afraid of being swallowed by 007 telling Rolling Stone in November of 1983 “I’d been an actor since I was twenty-five but the image the press put out was that I just fell into this tuxedo and started mixing vodka martinis. And, of course, it was nothing like that at all. I’d done television, theater, a whole slew of things. But it was more dramatic to present me as someone who had just stepped in off the street.” By the spring of 1966, the Bond star was not only arguing with Cubby Broccoli about slowing the pace of the series, Connery was also pushing to become a partner in the 007 franchise. When shooting started for You Only Live Twice Broccoli and Saltzman had let be know that wasn’t going to happen. All this, plus the sci-fi theme of the new film, pushed Connery to make a dramatic announcement in the middle of production; the current Bond film would be his last.
Director: Lewis Gilbert. Even thought Connery “officially” quit mid-production, EON saw the writing on the wall much earlier, and they had a strong hunch that they would be loosing their James Bond. Consequently, they made the first of many decisions that would backfire horribly. In an effort to wrestle control of the franchise back into their hands the producers got rid of most off-camera talent that made Bond a success in the first place. Simultaneously, they saw an opportunity to cash in on the publicity surrounding Connery’s swan song. Broccoli and Saltzman company line to the press was they assembled a new team behind the camera to give Bond a “fresh look” and make this “the biggest Bond yet!” The new creative crew started with the hiring of first time Bond director Lewis Gilbert. Gilbert, who would helm two more Bond films in the late 70’s, was hot off Alfie (1966), a smash hit in Britain that made leading man Michael Caine a household name. Gilbert turned the job down when Broccoli first called, forcing the producer to call back and refused to take no for an answer. With Gilbert in the directors chair, cinematographer Freddie Young, who won raves for his camera work in Lawrence of Arabia (1962) and Doctor Zhivago (1965) was next to come on board.
Finally, childrens writer Roald Dahl was brought in to adapt Fleming’s novel. Dahl would go on to pen Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1968) and Willy Wonka &The Chocolate Factory (1971), but at the time he wrote Bond, he had no screenwriting credits to his name. Accomplished artist all, the supposed “dream team” of talent would soon discover that making “big dumb fun” entertainment like Bond is not as easy as it looks.
Reported Budget: $9,500,000 estimated, the biggest yet. One set alone, a volcano that would act as SPECTRE’S base of operations, cost $1 million to build on the sound stage at Pinewood Studios in England. Masters of publicity, Saltzman and Broccoli took delight in telling anyone who would listen that this single set cost as much as the entire budget for Dr. No (1962); proof of how far Bond had come in five short years.
Reported Box-office: $43,084,787 (USA) $111,600,000 (Worldwide). Whoops. While not a bomb by any measure, the most expensive Bond yet took in less that the previous two; $20 million less than Thunderball in the states and $30 million less worldwide, making You Only Live Twice the first Bond film to show a drop-off in ticket sales. Part of reason was by 1967 theater goers were suffering from a bit of Bond fatigue. Flemings first Bond novel, “Casino Royale” (1953), the only Bond book that Saltzman and Broccoli failed to acquire, was released as a film only months prior to YOLT. However, outside of the title, Casino Royale (1967) had zero in common with the book. Producer Charlie Feldman owned the rights and wanted to partner with EON on the movie, an offer Saltzman and Broccoli refused. So Feldman set out to make a bigger, more expensive Bond film that turned into what Mark Harris called in “Pictures at the Revolution” a $12 million dollar sinkhole. Six directors and at least 17 screen writers including Woody Allen, Terry Southern, and Billy Wilder took a whack at the movie that featured half a dozen Bonds including one played by Peter Sellers. Producers took what should have been a red flag and made it a selling point, crowing that none of the directors knew what the other five were doing. The psychedelic poster that promised “Casino Royale is too much … for one Bond” got people into theaters before the bad word of mouth spread and despite terrible reviews Royale not only made it’s money back, it became the third highest grossing film of 1967. Additionally, Adolfo Celi who played Emilio Largo in Thunderball appeared in the James Bond spoof Operation Kid Brother (1967) starring none other than Neil Connery, Sean’s brother. Needless to say, I’ll be writing about both of these films at some point in the future. Any who, Time magazine excused the less-than-stellar earnings for the latest Bond film saying it was “a victim of the same misfortune that once befell Frankenstein: there have been so many flamboyant imitations that the original looks like a copy.” While I’m sure that was part of it, I also think the issue may have been You Only Live Twice, on top of having a terrible title, kind of sucks. In fact, it’s a credit to the strength of the Bond Brand that the franchise was able to recover from the double whammy of this poor movie and loosing its star. Harris says as much, writing the weak returns for You Only Live Twice “signaled a dip in Bond’s drawing power that would not turn around until the late 70’s.”
Theme Song: “You Only Live Twice” performed by Nancy Sinatra. I’m not really sure what to say here, so I’ll let Nancy tell the story. I love me “These Boots are Made for Walking.” I truly believe Nancy’s vocals on Walking mark one of the best performances in Rock and Roll. But this Bond theme is simply dreary and dreadful.
Opening Titles: Like the theme song, the titles are the weakest to this point. It’s a Japanese theme, with lots of Asian lady’s eyes (how exotic!) looking into the camera while lava blasts paint the background. Coupled with the theme song, it’s difficult to make it to the end of the opening credits, not a good sign of things to come.
Opening Action Sequence: Space. The final frontier. These are the voyages of … Oh sorry got this confused with another late 60’s science fiction release. The film does indeed open in space, as an U.S. astronaut steps outside his capsule for a little spacewalk. The opening shot makes it crystal clear that Connery’s wish of less spectacle and more focus on dialoged and character was about as likely as Monneypenny and Bond settling down on a sheep farm in the hills of Scotland. The spaceships look like hooky 1950’s flying saucer on strings, a big disappointment for a series which has set the bar high when it comes to special effects. I know it’s only 1967 but the TV show “Star Trek” (1966-69) looked better and Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) was only a year away. I don’t expect the space stuff here to look even half as good as the groundbreaking Kubrick film but this is, after all, the opening shot of the film. At least pretend some thought and effort went into it. The US space capsule is swallowed by a lager capsule that opens like the worm mouths in Dune (1984). In one of the few cool moments of the film, the space walking guy gets cut off from the shuttle and drifts off into space to die; this image, no matter how many times I see in countless films, still manages to hit me on gut level. We then quickly move to earth, Alaska I think, where a UN type meeting is in full swing under glass globe looking ceilings. The United States is furious with the Soviets for messing with their space program and denounces the kidnapping of the astronaut as an act of war. The burly bear of a Russian diplomat swears his country had nothing to do with it. The UK acts as the voice of reason, calling out the U.S. for jumping to conclusions. The Crown feels Japan may somehow be involved, “In fact, we have our man in Asia working on it right now.” Cut to Bond in bed with the sexy Ling (Tsai Chin.) Let’s take a moment to pause here, shall we. Before we even hit the opening credits we have gone from space to Alaska to Taiwan in a matter of minutes. Not only is this extremely chaotic, it breaks with the tradition of the opening set piece being a self contained bit of business. Even if the story is tied into the larger plot, the opening still acts as a stand alone with something of a beginning and end. Anyway, the first words out of Bonds mouth manage to be both sexist AND racist as he asks Ling why Chinese women taste different than other women, like Peking duck is different from Russian caviar. I shit you not. Ling, understandably pissed off by this bit of rudeness, pushes a button forcing the bed to flip upward into the wall, trapping Bond. Two men with machine guns enter and blow countless holes into the bed. English investigators arrive within seconds and declare Bond is dead, but at least he “died on the job, doing what he loved.” Ho-ho-ho!
Bond’s Mission: James Bond is dead and burred at sea in a Navel ceremony. The camera follows 007’s tightly wrapped body to the ocean floor and then picks up two divers approaching. They retrieve the body, bring it aboard a nearby submarine, crack open the wrapping around the body and out pops Bond, wearing a scuba tank. Long Live Bond and hence the title of the film! (All I could think was ‘wow, he didn’t spend enough time underwater in the previous film?’) On board the sub are Miss. Monnypenny and M, who informs Bond of the disappearing spacecraft and England’s Japanese theory. Neither M nor Bond are convinced Japan has the technology to pull off such a stunt, but who could? Bond’s job is to find out and oh, by the by, you have 20 days or WW III will breakout. Very good old man, so it’s into the torpedo tube with you then. Relax as we shoot you out onto a Japanese beach from where you will walk to Tokyo and hookup with you’re contact, Mr. Henderson, who will direct you from there. Yes, James Bond was shot out of a submarine’s torpedo tube. By this point in the film I knew we were in trouble and wished I could abandon ship as well. After arriving in Tokyo, Bonds first trip to Japan, 007 is followed by women who talk into radios hidden in their purses. Jimmy B then goes to a sumo match where he meets a Japanese woman who will bring him to Mr. Henderson but first … oh forget it. Really, the plot unrolls so sloppily and half-assed it’s clear the filmmakers don’t care so neither should I. All you need concern yourself with is Bond has 20 days to find who has been launching the rocket that’s been stealing the other rockets. The question becomes how will 007 do this? Bond eventually meets up with Tiger (Tetsuro Tanba), the “M” of the Japanese secret service, who comes up with a three point plan. In order to carry out the mission Bond must 1) get married 2) become a ninja and 3) become Japanese. Again, I shit you not.
Villain’s Plot: Simply put; our baddies plan is to steal both the US and USSR’s spacecraft pitting the superpowers against each other until they start World War III. In 1967 the space race was on, and the U.S found themselves in second place. Three NASA astronauts had died in a launch pad fire earlier in the year and the US was fearful of falling to far behind their cold war adversary, lest the commies would control space and be able to launch weapons capable of taking over the world. Inserting Japan into the mix was another ripped from the headlines plot point. The Asian island nation was recovering quite nicely from WWII and was on the verge of become a major player in the international business world, stoking fears on Wall St. However, Japan was a long way off from a rocket launch, so what mad man could not only dream up such a plot but also have the finances to pull off such a diabolical scheme?
Villain’s Name: #1, or as he is named, and seen, for the first time, Ernst Stavro Blofeld. We don’t get conformation of #1’s involvement until about 2/3rd of the way through the film when a chair spins to reveal a white cat being stroked on a lap. This should have been a great moment but it feels like to little way to late, just like the big reveal when we finally see Blofelds face. After three films of hiding in the shadows, seeing the face of evil itself should have packed more of a punch. By now, Bond fans know what Blofeld and his SPECTRE origination are all about, but in case you forgot, as Blofeld tells his Japanese business partners “Extortion is my business.”
Villain Actor: Donald Pleasence, who was a last second replacement when the original actor cast as #1 was in director Lewis Gilbert’s words not scary enough and “too Santa Clause.” Pleasence began acting on the London stage in 1939 and was shot down in WWII when he was serving in the Royal Air Force. He became famous as the blind Lt. Colin Blythe or “The Forger” in the classic The Great Escape (1963). Pleasence was the only actor in that superstar ensemble cast to actually be held in a POW camp and served as an unofficial advisor to the director. However, for me and those of my generation, Pleasence is most likely remembered for his work in John Carpenter films, playing Michael Myers shrink Dr. Sam Loomis in Halloween (1978) and the president of the United States in Escape From New York (1981)
Villain’s Lair: As I was watching this film I didn’t recall much and felt at points that I somehow may have missed it growing up; that was until I saw the volcano hideout. I remember simply loving the hidden volcano base as a kid and at first glance, it’s truly impressive. It’s freaking huge. The creator lake moves away so rockets and helicopters can take off and land. Monorails zip to and fro transporting equipment and workers. These works have different jobs which are determined by the color of their uniforms. These red dudes, yellow dudes, and white dudes running all around brought up another childhood memory, Lego Spacemen.
Blofeld was supposed to operate out of a castle on a cliff by the sea, as he does in the Fleming novel, but location scouts could find no such place in Japan. What they did find was a bunch of volcanoes so the idea was hatched for the secret mountain base. The $1 million set featured a movable helicopter platform, a working monorail, and a launch pad with a full size rocket that could be raised 50 ft into the air. To build one of the largest sets ever assembled for a film it took 700 tons of structural steel, 200 miles of tubular steel 200 tons of plaster 500,000 tubular couplings, over 250,000 square yards of canvas and a shitload of hubris. For this much time and money the thing should have been perfect, but set designers cheeped out on details that drag the whole affair down. The cars on the monorails are bouncy and look like chinchy cardboard cut outs. The control room is nothing special; just lots of switches and blinking lights. Even Blofeld’s office, which has some nice details, cheats on others. The main feature of his impressive room is a bridge over a Parana filled moat. After the sharks in Thunderball, which we actually see, bubbling green water that we are told is the home to Parana just doesn’t cut the mustard. Also, the office is never established or lived in. Blofild runs in, feeds the fish, and splits. It feels underused and rushed. On another note, the good guys get a cool lair in this film as well. Bond is chasing a girl through a hallway when the floor opens up and 007 sides down a chute, eventually landing in a chair. This is the office of Tiger Tanaka. As the head of Japanese Secret service he stays off the streets and gets around on his own private subway. Dude has a private train where he hangs out and drinks Saki! He also has an amazing house that comes complete with gardens, baths, and women to bathe you while in said baths. He also has a castle where he runs his own ninja training school, but we will get to that later…
Villain’s Coolest Accessory/ Trait: We already knew about Blofild’s cat and propensity to whack SPECTRE employees that fall into disfavor but we learn here he also has a nasty scar over his left eye.
Badassness of Villain: Look I love Donald Pleasence. I really do. I cried at the end of The Great Escape when he, a blind man, is one of the only POWs to make it out of Germany. Pleasence screaming “You are the Duke of New York, you’re A number one!” is one of my most quoted movie lines. So I hate to say it, but Donald Pleasence as #1 just isn’t that badass. This is a character who’s been built up for three films now. In this movie, #1 is ready to start freaking WWIII and blow up half the plant. When his loyal #11 fails to kill Bond, she becomes lunch for the Parana. At the end of the film, Blofild gets away by blowing up his volcano, killing all those cute Lego dudes he had working for him. This is one cold blooded guy. He runs SPECTRE for crying out loud! But once we finally meet him, he just doesn’t seem that badass. In fact, he comes across as kind of old and feeble. I don’t blame Pleasence, I suspect it’s the fault of the film around him and the director for not getting a better performance.
Villain’s Asides/ Henchmen: Mr. Osato (Teru Shimada) is the owner of Osato Chemical and Engineering Company. SPECTRE loves using evil business men as fronts and I like the symbolism of dirty CEO’s in bed with global terrorist. Mr. Osato’s secretary is Helga Brandt (Karin Dor) or #11. She functions as kind of a poor mans Fiona Volpe, the Thunderball femme fatale who was a much better assassin and much smarter in her handling of Bond. Helga captures Bond, has him tied up, is about to slice his face, but ends up banging him instead. Post-coitus, the two take off in a small plane where 007 promises Helga he can get her to England and protect her. In response, she locks Jimmy B into his seat, and jumps out with the only parachute. Why didn’t she shoot Bond when she had him tied up? Why bother with the plane? Channeling my inner Ebert, the reason is so we, the paying audience, can get a sequence where we see a girl parachuting and Bond has a chance to escape a doomed aircraft seconds before it explodes. This is just one of several points in the film where the action sequences and special effects serve not the plot, but exist simply so things can go boom. Anyway, due to her failure to disposes of 007, we know what happens to poor #11. (Helga “#11” Brandt) There is also Hans, a personal bodyguard/ errand boy for Blofeld who is mostly useless and a shadow of From Russia With Love’s (1963) SPECTRE killer Grant. In fact, all of the characters in this film are second rate; they feel like flat versions of baddies that came before.
Bond Girl Actress: We are graced with two Bond girls in this film, Akiko Wakabayashi and Mie Hama. Both actresses were big names in Japanese film and both were extremely excited to be making their English speaking debut in such a high profile role. In a story that is 10 times more interesting that anything that happens on screen, both ladies were sent to England prior to filming so they could learn English. Wakabayashi picked up the language fairly quickly but Mie Hama struggled mightily. So much so that when she showed up on set and started reading lines Gilbert quickly concluded she would not work for the role. He contacted the casting agent who hired her and told him to take Hama out for a nice dinner and let her down gently. The casting director reported back to Gilbert the next day with news that he refused to fire the girl and Hama must stay in the picture. When asked why, the casting director said that Hama had informed him she could not return to Japan having been fired. The shame would simply be too great. She said that if she were fired, she would kill herself by jumping out of her hotel room window, which was several stories high. So, Hama stayed in the film, and the two leading lades switched roles giving Wakabayashi the more dialog heavy part. One last note, for what it’s worth, Mie Hama, in what had become a Bond girl tradition at this point, posed in Playboy, making her the first Asian woman to do so.
Bond Girl’s Name: Aki (Wakabayashi) and Kissy Suzuki (Hama). Aki, who meets Bond at a sumo match, is Tiger’s right hand woman and quite a competent spy in her own right. She successful lures Bond into Tigers trap hallway and saves his life twice; both times zipping in at the last second in her hot little white Japanese made Toyota 2000GT. (The breaks work and the gas doesn’t stick.) The second time Bond and Aki are trying to get away from a car full of four gun men, she radios Tiger who sends out a helicopter equipped with a magnet which picks up the gunmen’s car and drops it into the sea. Not bad. Then there is Kissy Suzuki; where to even begin? She too is an agent who works for Tiger, and she is the woman who Tiger sets Bond up to marry. As I mentioned, the first part of this plan is to make Bond Japanese. This is accomplished by surrounding Connery, I mean Bond, with five Asian women who shave his chest, dress him in a komono, and give him a wig that makes him look more like the fifth Beatle than anything remotely Asian. Then it’s simply a matter of the 6’2” Scotsman walking around hunched over and waalaa! There you go, he’s Japanese. The next step is to marry, Yes marry, a “pig faced” villager so Bond can “blend in” to a small fishing community and see if the locals know anything about rockets being launched nearby. Apparently, one of Tigers men couldn’t simply walk in and ask. Nor could Kissy, who after all has lived in the village all her life. So, Bond is to marry, yes marry! Kissy in a Japanese ceremony. They do (but not really, it was just for show) and later that night they learn the U.S. has moved up the launch date of their latest space mission and the SPECTRE launch sight must be found sooner rather than later. Now, if Aki gets points for saving Bond twice than Kissy should have a statue erected in Piccadilly Circus for her service to the crown. Bond and Kissy, clad in nothing but a white bikini, jump into a fishing boat and go explore a lava cave by the sea which, it turns out, is full of poison gas. To get away, the two jump into the water and swim a good 50 meters underwater. Bond concludes the cave starts all the way at the top of the volcano and asks Kissy “Do you think you can make it?” She answers “Of course, is business” and for the remainder of the film, Kissy is all business. The bikini sporting Kissy runs up the side of a HUGE volcano, all the way to the top of the creator. She and Bond then climb down the other side and discover it’s the SPECTRE hideout. “I’ll go check this out. You go get Tiger and tell him to bring every man he’s got.” Right O Bond San! Kissy then runs back up to the top of the creator, back down the other side, jumps into ocean, and while swimming the God knows how many miles to get to Tiger, she dodges machine gun fire from a helicopter that’s right on top of her.
She then gets Tiger and his army of ninja’s, runs back up the volcano, and back down into the creator where she avoids more machine gun fire. Then she repels into the creator, dangling like a sitting duck while every Logo guy in the joint is shooting at her. Somehow, she makes it to the bottom and joins the ninja’s in a huge battle with the Lego Spacemen. Please keep in mind, she is still wearing nothing more than a white bikini. She fights in this battle and then jumps in the water, and swims over a mile down the lava cave while the volcano explodes. She makes it out to the sea without a scratch, climbs aboard a raft with Bond and is ready to do the nasty…that is until they are interrupted by a submarine emerging under the raft. I mean, this chick is insane!
Bond Girl Sluttiness: That Kissy Suzuki is a hard nut to crack. Despite being “married” yes MARRIED! to Bond she insist on separate beds on their wedding night, forcing Bond to forego his oyster dinner. But then, during the first trip up the volcano mountain she gets randy and starts in on Bond, only to be interrupted by more damn helicopters. She also strikes out when the sub comes up under the raft at the end of the film, so the two, despite being married, THAT’S WHAT I SAID, MARRIED! never get to consummate their vows making Kissy the first Bond girl that Bond doesn’t sleep with.
Bond Girls Best Pick-up Line: Aki upon learning Bond will be working with her, “I think I will enjoy very much serving under you.” Ugh, eye rolling bad.
Bond’s Best Pick-up Line: Bond awakes to find himself tied to a chair, captured by Helga Brandt. Helga “I’ve got you now.” Bond “Well, enjoy yourself.” He gets a good slap for that one, but it was worth it.
Number of Woman 007 Beds: 2. He was to sleep with Ling in the open but then that whole murder thing happened before he could “finish his massage.” After getting washed by the bathing beauties at Tigers house he “finishes the massage” with Aki. For the record, the bath scene is outright uncomfortable. Bond walks into the bathroom with Tiger. While the women strip the men Tiger promises 007 his “first civilized bath.” Bond, while eyeing the women, replies that he “likes the plumbing.” Both men, now naked, sit next to each other as the women sponge them off. “In Japan men always come first, women come second.” Tiger informs Bond who quips “I may just retire to here.” The scene is cringe worthy and unintentionally hysterical all at once. Anyway, afterward Bond and Aki go at it just because. Really, there is zero reason at all for this to happen. He also sleeps with Helga “#11” Brandt in her cabin on the boat before she tries to kill him on the plane. Bond gets one more go with Aki, this time in his Chinaman disguise. And by the way, Dude, Chinaman is not the preferred nomenclature…
Miss. Moneypenny: Lois Maxwell is always a bright spot in the films, and this dreary affair needs all the help it can get. We find our favorite executive assistant not in her costmary London digs but on board a British sub and in uniform to boot. Bond walks in to her office after his funeral and, thankfully, finds the hat rack to toss his cover upon. As Bond is walking out, Monnypenny tosses a Japanese language book at 007 who responds that he studied Asian languages at Cambridge, giving audiences the best peek into Bonds past since Dr. No (1962).
M: Also on the sub, he must settle for dreary digs and not his grand office in London. M too is in his Navel uniform, wearing his dress whites. Bond, for the record is also in uniform, blue, the first time we have seen his so dressed. Anyway, M debriefs Bond and then shoots him out a torpedo tube.
Q: Poor Desmond Llewelyn. Connery made it clear he felt gadgets were taking on to big of a role in the Bond films and over-showing character. As a result, Q gets the short stick in You Only Live Twice. Keep in mind, this is a movie where Connery becomes a ninja, becomes Japanese, and gets shot out of a torpedo tube for Christ sakes and he’s upset about a few silly props? Regardless, Q is under written and I think he may have even been a last minute addition to film. The only gadget he provides was not in the original script and was a late add-on.
List of Gadgets: On the bonus DVD, the production designer admits “Little Nellie” was shoehorned into the plot after he heard an interview on BBC radio with Wing Commander Ken Wallis of the Royal Air Force. On that program, Commander Wallis described a one man portable auto-gyro; basically a mini single seat helicopter. The production designer tracked Wallis down and convinced him to bring the contraption to Japan and pilot it for the film. I’m sure this thing was a blast to fly around (or maybe not, a camera man lost a leg in a crashed while shooting one of the 85 flights required to get the scene) but as a Bond film gadget it’s severely lacking. It’s delivered by Q in four suitcases and assembled quickly. Q then dutifully lists the toys that come with the aircraft including machine guns, missiles, rear flame throwers, sky mines, and heat seeking missiles. No sooner does Q get done running down the items than Bond is off and being chased by four helicopters, robbing us of the fun game of guessing what gadget will be used and how. Quick, you get three guess as to how Bond will take care of each of the four helicopters. You’re first two guesses don’t count. This all just happens way too quickly and feels like it was throw in to have a chase scene featuring the new toy, which is exactly what happened. It is a self contained seven minutes in which Q comes, tells Bond about the four weapons, Bond takes off and uses the four weapons, land the aircraft in the airport he took of from, and then the film starts back up again where is left off prior to Q’s arrival. Remove it and the movie would play the same, all be it tighter by seven minutes. Again, action for actions sake. One last note, Bond, no matter what, should always look cool. While flying this lame looking bird, Connery is forced to wear the dumbest looking helmet I think I’ve ever seen in a movie outside of Mick Jagger’s lid in Freejack (1992).
The helmet is equipped with a helmet cam, basically, a Nikon lenses sticking out the front. Terrible. OK, other gadget’s, none of which are supplied by Q. Bond is equipped with a safe cracker he uses to get Osato Chemical documents. Remember that ninja training school I keep threatening to explain? Not yet…but while there Bond gets “rocket bullets” which are exactly what they sound like and a pack of cigarettes that when smoked shoot out an explosive mini-dart. He also has big suction cups he can attach to his hands and knees so he can crawl on a wall like Spiderman and he blows a lock to a door that jails the captured astronauts… somehow.
Number of People 007 Kills: 19, none of them very memorable but some of them quite ridiculous. Take Mr. Henderson’s assassin for instance. Mr. Henderson, Bond’s English contract who has lived in Japan for over 20 years, is stabbed by an Asian assassin who is wearing a mask. This is covenant because after Jimmy B kills him, 007 can put the dead dudes mask on and jump into the back of his get away car. The driver then not only takes Bond to Osato’s office building, but he carries him up to the top floor! While escaping from this office building Bond shoots a kills a guy in the parking lot. At some point Bond and Aki end up at the docks so a battle can ensue where deck-hands of all stripes try to kill the superspy. Here, he shoots three dudes. Then, there is “Little Nellie.” While flying the mini-copter Bond takes out four helicopters, each being flown by a single pilot. That’s four dead dudes, one by missiles, one by flame thrower, one by sky mines, and the last by heat seeking sidewinders. If you think I’m lacking energy in the telling of this, you should see Connery as he’s actually doing it. He is so bored, wearing this dorky helmet while sitting in front of green screen, that he doesn’t even try to hide his contempt. He supposed to be narrowly avoiding machine gun fire and he looks like he’s about to fall asleep. While at the ninja school Bond kills a guy (Tiger “This man is a stranger to me.”) who attempts to stab him. Then there is the final ninja battle in the volcano hideout. This is terribly edited and looks like a bunch of guys run around in smoke, occasionally jumping on trampolines.
While watching this I thought back to the pride Young took choreographing the action sequences for From Russia With Love and got depressed. Anyway, in making his way through the chaos Bond kills an engineer with a cigarette death dart, shoots one guy, gets three more with a grenade (we know Bond killed them because they fly into the air, just like one would when jumping on a trampoline!), shoots another dude, and finally, kills a guy with a Chinese star, just like the ones you can buy at the local flee market from a guy who look like Matthew McConaughey in Dazed and Confused (1993). Bond then confronts Hans, who after a brief tussle with 007, ends up in the Parana tank, sleeping with the fishes. That makes 18 dead at Bonds hand. One more to go…
Most Outrageous Death/s: Bond, in full on Japanese disguises, enters Aki’s room at night. “Tiger say, you must a do everything a Japanese style” Aki tells Bond before they do the nasty (Japanese style?) The two fall asleep and an assassin crawls into the room, hiding in the rafters above the sleeping couple. He unwinds a single piece of string until the end of it rests just above Bonds mouth. He then applies a few drops of a deadly poison to the string and it slowly works its way down, getting closer and closer to Bonds lips. At the last second, 007 rolls over in his sleep and Aki rolls into his place. Bond is awaked by her choking and shoots the assassin dead. Within seconds, he figures out what has happened, and Aki is dead. This sequence is actually a stand out moment in this otherwise humdrum movie. It’s inventive, creates tension, and is a classic “Bond” moment that could very easily fit into any of the previous far superior films, perhaps the only moment in You Only Live Twice that can be said about.
Gadgets/British Government Property Bond Destroys: Sadly none. Bond is kind of on his own in Japan, since he supposed to be dead and all, and outside of “Little Nellie” he uses only stuff given to him by Tiger.
Other Property Destroyed: Bond trashes Mr. Osato’s office while battling a sumo thug who 007 defeats by breaking a statue over his head. He blows up the four SPECTRE helicopters and crash lands #11’s plane. In addition he does some damage in the volcano base and ultimately pushes a self-destruct button, destroying SPECTRE’S spaceship swallowing spaceship. Although it’s not Bonds fault, it’s worth noting that in order to escape from the volcano base, Ernst Blofeld forces the volcano to erupt, not only killing all who are left in the base … well, not all. Tiger, Kissy, the ninjas, and Bond make the mile swim through the lava cave, a lava cave that is somehow not overflowing with lava during this particular eruption and is free of the poison gas that filled it earlier, to safety. Anyway, not only does the erupting volcano kill anyone who didn’t make the swim but also, we must assume, anyone in the quaint fishing village that sits at the volcano base. Again, not directly Bond’s fault, but a good bit of Japan is destroyed, a small house cleaning matter the film has no time to concern itself with.
Felix Leiter: No Felix. Truth be told, as much as I took the piss out of the CIA man in the last film, we could have used him here. I’m a proud resident of New York and therefore considered American in most circles. As I’ve said a few times, I love how Felix is used as a stand in for American buffoonery. The character is a way for England, in the form of James Bond, to look superior. It’s a funny and appropriate running joke. However, in this film, the Americans are outright non-thinking jack-asses. They refuse to even consider England’s suggestion that Japan or more accurately, a third party operating undetected in Japan, might be responsible for the space kidnappings. Even after a Soviet spacecraft is abducted, the U.S. still refuses to believe anyone but Russia is involved. They even move up the launch date of a second mission, knowing full well the most likely outcome of this launch is going to be WWIII. If Felix, who has extensive experience with SPECTRE, were involved, I suspect even he would be sharp enough to connect the dots and convince the Dr. Strangelove generals that #1 was behind all the nastiness. But no, Felix was nowhere to be found. We get in his place Tiger Tanaka, the head of Japanese secret service who unlike M is quite hands on. He is, in fact, the most interesting character in the film. Now, the third part of his plan for Bond. On top of become Japanese and marrying a Japanese woman, Bond must train to become a ninja. Tiger has a ninja training school and that I can swallow. He is, after all, the head of Japanese intelligence. I do take issue with the idea that Bond trains, for three days and then, presto, he becomes a ninja. Three freaking days! Anyone who has seen a marshal arts movie worth its salt knows a bit more is involved in becoming a ninja.
Best One Liners/Quips: Honestly, this was incredibly difficult since Connery delivers most of Bond’s lines like he’s a hostage reading a written statement denouncing his country. One of the only lines given the old Connery roughish charm is when 007 wakes up, tied to a chair in Helga’s room, and he asks “What’s a nice girl like you doing in a place like this?”
Bond Cars: Since he travels via one man copter and torpedo tube, MI6 fails to supply a car for Bond in this film. He gets driven around by Aki in a hot little white Toyota 2000GT convertible. Besides being quite sporty and sleek looking, this car has one of the most astounding features I’ve even seen on an automobile. As I described earlier, Aki gets rid of a car full of machine gun shooting baddies by calling in a helicopter with a big magnet to pick up the car, fly it to the sea, and release the car into the water. Good enough, but what’s so crazy is Bond and Aki are able to watch the entire flight and car dump on a monitor in the dashboard in the Toyota. This in itself is fine but how are they getting the picture? The angels in which they view the flight can’t possibility be shot by cameras on the helicopter. So what amazing device is recording these images and relaying them back to the car in real time?
Bond Timepiece: None noted. One more detail the film simply has no time for.
Other Notable Bond Accessories: It was interesting to see Bond in his military dress blues. I also like that he is smoking again. Other than that and the Beatle wig Bond operates fairly bare-boned in this movie.
Number of Drinks 007 Consumes: 4, in the only category where this movie hits on all cylinders. When Bond first arrives in Japan he visits Mr. Henderson who has done his homework. He offers Bond a martini, shaken. Bond takes one sip and is pleasantly surprised noting Mr. Henderson used real Russian vodka. It turns out Mr. Henderson is friendly with one of the doorman at the Soviet embassy who supplies the Brit with booze from the mother land in exchange for other favors. Details like this bring Bond’s world, that of spying and international connections, to life. Sadly, these touches are in short supply in this film. Bond has a different reaction to his vodka drink in Mr. Osato’s office. After knocking out the sumo dude, Bond raids Osato’s liquor cabinet to finds a bottle. He takes a pull and then winces saying to himself “Siamese vodka.” I Googled Siamese vodka and as I suspected, it doesn’t exist. On board the private subway, Tiger offers Bond some Saki, unless he would like a martini. In a perfect “when in Rome” moment, Bond turns down his favorite drink, showing his host the proper respect. 007 goes a step further impressing Tiger when he points out the Saki is served at 98.4F as it should be. Then next morning Bond finds himself once again in Mr. Osato’s office, this time posing as an international business man. It’s only 11:30 AM but Mr. Osato offers some Champaign, a drink Bond turns down due to the early hour, until he learns it’s a Dom ’59. I love the smell of Don ’59 in the morning.
Bond’s Gambling Winnings: Heartbreaking but true, no gambling here.
List of Locations: The film spends a small amount of time in space and in the Alaskan tundra where the UN meeting takes place. Why Alaska? Maybe so everyone can keep an eye on those shifty Soviets. The third opening location, Taiwan, is a non-location since all we see is the inside of a hotel room, which could be in Poughkeepsie for all we know. This film doesn’t make it to London, making this the first Bond film where 007 doesn’t set foot in the UK. 98% of You Only Live Twice happens in Japan. Bond starts in Tokyo. The coolest place he visits is an arena in the round for a Sumo Wrestling bout. The shipyard scenes were shot at the Kobie Docks which sadly no longer exist. On January 17, 1995 the port was destroyed by largest earthquake to his Japan since 1923. Akime Village, pop. 180, was used for the idyllic seaside fishing community. Finally, the volcano was Mt. Kirishima, located on a southern island in a national park. Despite the fact that Japan is woven into the plot, the country and culture somehow manage to be little more than a backdrop. It feels like Bond is detached from the locations in someway, where as in past films, Bond became part of them. Like most of this film, I’m sure many things are to blame, from Connery’s less than committed performance to the lackluster direction to the silly screenplay. If I could pick a single shot to sum up the entire film, it would be the one look we get at the U.S.S.R. It’s a wide shot of a Soviet rocket launch. In the foreground, several palm trees can be seen.
Bonds Special Abilities Displayed: When Bond points out to Tiger that his Saki is served at the proper temperature, 98.4F Tiger responds “For a European, you are exceptional cultivated.” Indeed, we learn that Bond San studied Oriental languages at Cambridge, however we never hear him udder a word in Japanese. Bond also works double duty as a pilot, not only dog fighting in “Little Nellie” but also crash landing a small prop plane. Then there is the small task of become a ninja in three days. I can’t think of any reason to include this nonsense other than the fact that in 1967, Kung Fu films were breaking through and become hot in the west. It’s kind of sad to see Bond flowing and not leading but, there you go. In another of the countless logic defying moments in this film, during the SPECTRE rocket launch, Bond dresses up like an astronaut and attempts to sneak onto the spacecraft. Blofeld becomes suspicious when Bond tries to carry his air conditioning unit into the capsule and #1 calls Bond out. What the hell was Bond’s plan? Suppose Blofeld missed this small mistake and Bond gets into the cockpit? What then? How in the name of Jesus H Christ is he going to fly a God Damn spaceship? I’m not sure if you’ve picked this up yet, but this film kind of sucks.
Thoughts on Film: “Welcome to Japan, Mr. Bond,” you should have stayed home. Since everyone involved knew this was Connery’s last film, there was a feeling that all the stops needed to be pulled out. Subsequently, Broccoli and Saltzman gave more energy to marketing than the movie; the trailer came first, the film came second. The script was changed and changed again with the goal of loading as much “stuff” as possible into Connery last go in Bond’s shoes. As a result, the final product is not a movie but a Frankenstein’s monster of action sequences sewn together with the hope of creating life. They failed and the movie is D.O.A. The poster, on the other hand, lived, screaming out loudly; Bond Dies! (but no, not really) Bond Marries! (ahh yah, but no, not really) Bond becomes Japanese! (not even Fing close) Bond finally meets SPECTRE’S #1! (OK they deliver on this last one) Connery’s Last Bond Is The Biggest EVER! (Arguable, but it’s certainly not the best.) Some of the blame for the films failure must be hung around Connery’s neck. Getting shot out of a torpedo tube, crawling on the ceiling like Spiderman, making Bond a Japanese ninja, it’s all bullshit and Connery knew it. He simply couldn’t bring himself to care and it shows. If Connery was indifferent about the movie, the producers and director were outright hostile. The cheesy special effects, the retrofit action sequences, the terrible screenplay all pile on to make this movie a labor to simply sit through.
For the record, I have a suspension of disbelief that stretches a mile wide. I will buy pretty much anything a movie is selling. If I sit down in a theater and you tell me there’s a guy with breathing problems who flies around the galaxy in a huge circular weapon that can destroy planets and he’s defeated by a farmer with magic powers and his trash can robot sidekick, I can get behind that 100%! All a movie has to do is tell me things in a logical way, don’t break its own rules, and treat me like an intelligent person. I think most movie goes will agree, we want fantasy, but don’t lie to us or worse yet, don’t treat us like fools. We will be fine with an alien who wears tights and flies (Superman I and II) but we balk at the idea he can throw every nuclear weapon on earth into the sun (Superman IV.) You Only Live Twice not only disrespects its audience, it dares Bond fans to care and shows them no respect. It simply assumes if Bond is on the screen with some chicks and explosions, all is right with the world. Thankful, the audience struck back, hurting the films bottom line. (Ed Note: For this project, I want to focus on the films and avoid the Fleming novels as much as possible. That said, I highly recommend you read this fantastic post which details Bond creator/author Ian Fleming so-called “Blofeld Trilogy” and how that storyline was destroyed when shooting schedules demanded that YOLT be made before OHMSS. The post goes a long way to explaining why YOLT is such a mess.) To be fair, the film has it’s moments; the Aki assassination is top notch. There is a breathtaking shot of Japanese fishing boats on the water a dawn, but for every bright spot we get ten bummers. The plot is a mess, the laughs aren’t funny, the dialog is lazy, the characters are forgettable and the film is ultimately a sad swan song for Connery. Perhaps I’m being overly harsh, but I was shock at how far off the beam You Only Live Twice had fallen. Coming after three incredibly strong films I found this movie to be trying and an embarrassment to the Bond name.