The Weekly Bond Countdown: #13 – You Only Live Twice (1967)

I’m going to be honest – You Only Live Twice doesn’t have the best story and the story is not the greatest Bond adventure.  It involves Bond trying to thwart World War III between the Soviet Union and the Americans, secretly orchestrated by his number one nemesis, Blofeld.  But in saying that, I still love this film immensely.

Maybe it’s my love of kung fu films (and technology and gadgets), but this film makes Japan look awesome!  There’s romanticism with the country.  Eventually one day I make a visit but for now, You Only Live Twice is a start.  Helped with the gorgeous themes by John Barry, we are invited as an audience to view (and experience from Bond’s point of view) an entirely different culture.  With many Britons during this period trying to recover and re-establish themselves after the Second World War, seeing Bond going to exotic places must have released them mentally from the grey and dreary, limited income and food ration boredom.

Yes, the film is exaggerated but I can’t help but love it.  Bond may know Japanese (took the language while studying at Cambridge), but I love the idea of Bond being a fish out of water in unfamiliar territory.  He handles the different traditions/cultures with ease – a total opposite of Bill Murray in Lost in Translation!

I’ve used this as a criticism in the past but I love how outlandish (and at times how ridiculous) the film is –

  • Bond tries to blend in as an ordinary Japanese man as part of his cover.  He has extensive work done…and his transformation was basically a haircut (in a form of a wig) and some new eyebrows.  He has the same amount of blending skills as a spider you find in your bathtub in the morning!
  • Japanese technology so far ahead of the rest of the world that a camera is able to capture a helicopter dropping a black Sedan car into the Ocean, whilst Bond watches on a small screen television in Aki’s white Toyota 2000GT.
  • After seducing Bond, Helga had a golden opportunity to kill Bond while he was strapped to a chair.  Yet felt it was necessary to take him up into a plane and trap him there whilst she parachutes out.  Bond naturally escapes and Blofeld feeds Helga to the piranhas.
  • You get the introduction of ‘Little Nellie’, a gyrocopter that packs serious ammunition and is not to be messed with.  In other words it is the flying version of the Aston Martin.
  • Then you have Blofeld’s volcanic hideout, which at that time was the largest Bond set built at Pinewood studios, only to be surpassed by The Spy Who Loved Me.  You have to thank Ken Adam for that!

After the gradual build up of the character through the previous films, we finally get to see Blofled, a role fulfilled by Donald Pleasence.  However great Pleasence’s introduction is as Blofeld, it slightly ruins the mysterious nature about him.  Up until that point, he was a character who was mostly hidden by clever camera angles.  This was a tease that I actually enjoyed, because you are then left with the imagination of what he looks like.  The mysteriousness also maintains his authority and intimidates anyone in his presence – you can’t second-guess who’s in charge!  His henchmen (the ones with the faces you can see) who conduct Blofled’s plans on his behalf are the ones that can be easily sacrificed and are replaceable – hence the extravagant ways they have met their end. No wonder Dr. Evil from the Austin Powers movies felt inspired.

By giving Blofeld a face, your expectations of the character and how you accept him is now down to you.  Personally I prefer Telly Savalas underrated performance as Blofeld, just because of how cool and how down to Earth he was.  But Donald Pleasence is still good due to the fact he fits into the context and tone of the story, even though his plans for world domination needed clarity.  I mean if you are going to start WWIII, with the East and the West at odds with each other, what was Blofeld’s main gain out of it?

With this being Connery’s last Bond film (at the time), he does bow out in grand epic nature.  Sadly off screen all was not well.  Filming on location in Japan was a huge challenge for both cast and crew.  Bond was huge – massively…fanatically.  Legions of fans would follow the crew around to the sets where it was being filmed.  Sean Connery couldn’t walk around without being mobbed by crazy fans and it didn’t end there.  In a story that I couldn’t make up, one fan broke into his hotel room and tried to take a picture of him…while he was sitting on the toilet.  True story.  No lie.

It also became apparent that he was unhappy with the treatment from producers Cubby Broccoli and Harry Saltzman (Saltzman in particular) – a feud that would last for years until Sean reconciled with Cubby Broccoli shortly before Cubby died.  He felt despite being a big massive star, he wasn’t getting his full pay, unlike the producers who re-negotiated their contracts with United Artists on a regular basis.

To be fair and honest, there is a degree of sympathy for both parties.  Broccoli and Saltzman “discovered” Sean and made him a star, against the wishes from the studio.  The studio originally wanted a big star like Cary Grant to play the lead role.  At the time, not even Fleming was convinced by Connery as Bond (an opinion he quickly changed before he died).  But the producers were and took a chance.

Then you have Sean who had to deal with the ever-increasing fame and attention attached around him as each Bond film became successful.  I wouldn’t blame him (or anyone for that matter) for thinking the attention was too much and in You Only Live Twice, it kinda shows.

So how do I end this review on a positive note?  Why did I rank this film so highly?

It’s because there is something to admire about this film.  The film itself lacks character definition, with Bond pulling out the same moves from his previous films as if it’s second nature.  He’s never truly tested, with mainly the set pieces taking focus.  But as I’ve said before, it is the romanticism with Japan that is beautifully captured on screen.  Yes this may feel like a tourist ad for the country but like The Spy Who Loved Me, there is a lot of fun to have with this film.  It’s exciting, adventurous and entertaining.  Bond and his Japanese warriors storming Blofeld’s volcanic hideout is case highlight.

Oh yeah, Nancy Sinatra singing one of my favourite Bond themes also helps and if you are a fan of Mad Men like I am, it was used rather well 🙂

The Countdown So Far:

Check back next week Wednesday to find out which Bond film comes in at #12.

Author: Kelechi Ehenulo

Creator and writer of Confessions From A Geek Mind. Loves sci-fi and LEGO - couldn't ask for a better combo!

7 thoughts

  1. I’d argue that The Living Daylights and For Your Eyes Only are better, but it would be splitting hairs at this point. The 13th spot feels about right for You Only Live Twice. It has its moments but is also sort of a mess. People remember the end but forget that the middle is pretty much a mess.

    By the way, I’ve just discovered your countdown, and this is pretty awesome. Can’t wait to see the rest!

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    1. Hey Dan! Thanks for commenting. My apologies on my late reply but I’m glad you are enjoying the posts. Makes the whole blogging adventure worthwhile 🙂

      Plot wise, The Living Daylights and For Your Eyes Only are better, but You Only Lives Twice just shades it because of my fond memories of watching it as a kid, even if the film was a mess!

      Like

      1. No problem on the delay. I can totally understand about the fond memories of certain movies as a kid. It’s been surprising for me to check these out as an adult and have such a different reaction on some of them.

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  2. This movie is great and underrated.Donald Pleasance is the favourite bloefeld villain for me.watch for this scene.”Allow me to Introduce myself Mr Bond.”This scene rules.

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