3.5 of 5 stars
As far as anyone knew in 1967 You Only Live Twice was to be the last of Sean Connery’s Bond films. Therefore, this was to be the Bond to end all Bonds. In this one Bond dies, he gets married, he travels to exotic Japan and confronts SPECTRE No. 1, Ernst Stavro Blofeld, face-to-face. It’s certainly the most over-the-top of the films to that point, with an outer space sequence and a battle in a volcanic lair.
After an American spaceship disappears while orbiting the earth, the Americans naturally blame the Russians. The Russian delegate responds, “The world knows we are a peace-loving people,” in an appropriately sinister tone not even he believes. With a cool demeanor typical of the English, the British delegate responds the ship that hijacked the American craft came down in the Sea of Japan area and says their man in Hong Kong is already working on the case.
Cut to: Bond in bed with a Chinese woman. A pair of gunmen rush into the room and gun down the naked 007. Police arrive on the scene and declare, ‘Well, at least he died on the job.’ Of course we know Bond isn’t really dead since this is all before the opening credits and typically a nameless bystander doesn’t make a quip when the hero really dies.
After Nancy Sinatra’s memorable theme song, we learn Bond’s faked death was to give 007 some breathing room in order to concentrate on the case at hand. He’s off to Tokyo, where he meets the head of the Japanese secret service, “Tiger” Tanaka (played by real-life weirdo Tetsuro Tamba).
Roald Dahl’s script (yes, that Roald Dahl) quickly devolves into laziness. A romance forms between Bond and Aki (Akiko Wakabayashi)… for some reason. We see no reason why they should get involved with each other. There’s no indication Aki is attracted to Bond. She just interrupts his massage while wearing a bikini and throws herself on him. Oh, I get it. It’s because he’s James Bond or something. Ditto with the clone of Fiona from Thunderball, Helga Brandt. Then when Aki dies in a botched attempt to kill Bond, he grieves for all of two seconds before moving on with his life. At one point Bond flies a ridiculous, tiny helicopter Q builds on the spot to search the area where the space ships have been coming down. Never mind the tiny helicopter probably couldn’t hold enough fuel to get from the Tokyo area to the islands around Kyushu, nor that Bond managed to fly the distance in almost no time at all. Four helicopters appear and open fire on Bond. Bond uses all his toy helicopter’s add-ons–flamethrowers, aerial mines, heat-seeking missiles–in almost the same order as Q showed him minutes earlier. Usually we’re shown a gadget in the first act, forget about it in the second, and are pleasantly surprised when it shows up in the third. Here, we are allowed no suspense in wondering how Bond will get out of this situation.
Bond is then disguised as a Japanese fisherman to get close to Blofeld’s base undetected, because it’s totally understandable a burly, 6’2” white man with a thick Scottish accent could pass for an Asian as long as he wore a wig and a little makeup.
He goes through a sham wedding with a local woman, Kissy Suzuki (Mie Hama), to complete his cover. How do we know her name is Kissy Suzuki? Her name isn’t mentioned once in the movie. I guess it was in the book or something. Again, lazy script. At least she looks stunning in a hip-hugging bikini.
The story culminates in a noisy shoot-out in Blofeld’s lair and ends with virtually the same shot on the same yellow life raft as Thunderball. This is where Roald Dahl finally said, ‘Fuck it.’
A lot of the problems with this movie originated with Dahl feeling confined by the formula of the series. He clearly lost motivation somewhere along the line and began just plugging elements into the formula without really fleshing them out or caring.
Despite all this, the movie is a lot of fun. It’s campy and there’s a certain flamboyancy to the style the series lost in the ‘80s. Donald Pleasance is memorable as Blofeld, the Japanese setting is exciting, and we get plenty of quotes to repeat (“In Japan men come first, and women come second.”)
Unfortunately, this film established a sillier tone for the series that would take 20 years for it to shake.