Section: Reviews
You Only Live Twice Movie Review

You Only Live Twice...and "TWICE" is the only way to live!

Title: You Only Live Twice

Released: 06/13/1967

Budget: $8,500,000

Gross (US; Worldwide): $43,084,787; $111,600,000

Producer: Albert R. Broccoli & Harry Satlzman

Writer: Roald Dahl

Director: Lewis Gilbert

Based On: 'You Only Live Twice' book, written by Ian Fleming.

Stars: Starring Sean Connery as James Bond 007, Akiko Wakabayashi (as Aki), Tetsuro Tanba (as Tiger Tanaka), Mie Hama (as Kissy Suzuki), Karin Dor (as Helda Brandt), Teru Shimada (as Mr. Osato), And Starring Donald Pleasance as Ernst Stavro Blofeld; Also Starring Bernard Lee as M, Desmond Llewelyn as Q, and Lois Maxwell as Miss Moneypenny.


Commentary: The filmmakers sold 'Thunderball' as "the biggest Bond of all," but that description probably best fits 'You Only Live Twice.' It's outrageous, silly, and fun – but it never winks at the audience. Instead, the film takes us on a wild ride from outer space to a sumo wrestling match in Tokyo and finally to a hollowed-out volcano. The film is also marked by some of the best cinematography and production design in the series.

The teaser, like the one in 'From Russia with Love,' teases the audience with Bond's death. A mysterious spacecraft has "eaten" an American capsule and returned to earth. The Americans suspect the Russians, who deny any role in the affair. "Her Majesty's government" is caught in the middle, trying to prevent a nuclear war between the West and East. MI6 speculates the space vessel has landed somewhere near Japan and tells the two world superpowers "Our man in Hong Kong is working on it now." The film takes us to Hong Kong, where James Bond is in bed with a local girl. She gets out of the bed, pushes a button, and the bed – with Bond still in it – collapses into the wall. In come some local guys with guns, who shoot up the wall. Bond, supposedly, is dead.

Or at least that's what MI6 wants the world to think. A newspaper headline reads "British naval commander murdered" next to a picture of Bond in uniform. If S.P.E.C.T.R.E. is behind the space terrorism, and they think Bond is dead, Bond may have an easier task bringing them down. M and Moneypenny meet Bond on a naval ship. M instructs Bond, before he sneaks into Japan, "This is the big one, 007." M is right – the possibility of nuclear war between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. is frightening and a great backdrop for a Bond film.

Japan, too, is a great backdrop for a Bond film. We've seen the Caribbean and Europe in the first four films, and the film beautifully portrays Japan as a mysterious, exotic locale. Bond goes to a sumo wrestling match, where he expects to meet MI6's agent in Japan, Mr. Henderson. Instead, he meets a mysterious woman, Aki. When Aki doesn't utter the agreed-upon password – "I love you" – both Bond and the audience are suspicious. The filmmakers do a good job making us suspicious of Aki and Henderson, who also doesn't say the code phrase, but one wonders if the creation of suspicion was really necessary for the film. After all, everybody except the good guys think Bond is dead. Henderson, well played by future Blofeld Charles Gray, tells Bond that he suspects a foreign power is using Japan to launch its space capsule. A man stabs Henderson through the paper-thin walls of his house before he can tell Bond anything else. Bond chases down the murderer, kills him, puts on his clothes, and goes to the car waiting for the murderer.

The car goes to the Osato Chemicals building, where Bond does some snooping around before setting off an alarm. He uses a small decoder to break into a safe in Mr. Osato's office where he finds a photograph of a boat and some information regarding sales of liquid oxygen, a main component of rocket fuel. This sequence is good because it shows Bond doing some detective work. Bond fights his way out of the building, where Aki waits for him.

Aki takes Bond to the Tokyo subway headquarters of Tiger Tanaka, the head of the Japanese Secret Service. Tiger is a good, helpful ally for Bond, offering his services in finding out information about the boat in the photograph.

The next day, Bond, pretending to be a businessman named Mr. Fisher, meets with Mr. Osato. Osato and a redhead named Helga Brandt, who both work for S.P.E.C.T.R.E., discuss liquid oxygen with Bond. They don't recognize him, which is troubling, considering their employer and the fact that his picture was in the paper, which is troubling, but Osato does know that Bond is the one who broke into his office the night before. He tells Helga to kill Bond (while Bond is still in the room!).

A car sent by Helga chases Aki and Bond through the streets of Tokyo. The chase is fun and thrilling, capped by the great shot of Tiger's helicopter picking up the car chasing Bond with a giant magnet and dropping it in the Sea of Japan. Tiger tells Bond where he can find the boat from the photograph.

Aki and Bond go to the docks, where Osato's goons await with guns. In the most memorable shot in the movie, a spectacularly wide view from a helicopter, the goons chase Bond on the roof of a building. It's a beautiful and thrilling scene. Bond is caught, and is reintroduced to Helga as S.P.E.C.T.R.E.'s Number Eleven. She has sex with him, for absolutely no reason – she doesn't seem to enjoy it like Fiona did in '‘Thunderball.' Afterwards, she tries to kill Bond in a horribly convoluted way – by locking him in a plane and crashing it, making it look like an accident. The problem is, without a pilot in the plane, it won't look like an accident. And why waste a perfectly good plane when a bullet could do the trick? Obviously, Bond escapes and survies.

Meanwhile, Tiger has done some more investigating, locating the shoreline behind the boat in the photograph. Bonds sends for "Little Nellie" and her father. In comes Q with a wonderful little helicopter, one of his most memorable inventions. Bond flies the helicopter out to the shoreline in the photograph to see if there's anything of interest. Soon, some other, larger helicopters come by, aimed at knocking Little Nellie out of the sky. The aerial chase/battle is astonishingly photographed and makes great use of the Bond theme at just the right moment. Bond defeats the other copters, thanks to Q's special additions to Little Nellie. Bond knows he's onto something – the helicopters were protecting something on that island.

The filmmakers recreate the scene from the teaser in which the mysterious spacecraft swallows another vessel – this time, a Soviet capsule. We're taken into the Russian space control center, and we hear the Russians in Russian, without subtitles, but we know exactly what they're saying anyway. It's a nice touch that respects the intelligence of the audience. This time, the filmmakers extend the scene just a bit more – we see the enemy spacecraft descending back to earth, to where Bond was investigating, into a volcano, which opens up. The spacecraft lands inside the volcano, in which the filmmakers place the camera. Like the moment in 'Dr. No' when Professor Dent takes us to Crab Key, we get to be inside the enemy's camp before Bond. We even get to see, but only from behind, the man behind it all, a man sitting in a chair with a fluffy white cat: Blofeld. The volcano set is a marvel of production design, showing S.P.E.C.T.R.E. at the height of its financial resources.

The film takes us back to Bond and Tiger, who is taking Bond on a tour of his ninja training facility, which echoes S.P.E.C.T.R.E.'s island facility in 'From Russia with Love.' Bond and Tiger devise a plan to invade the island – Bond will disguise himself as a fisherman newly married to a local girl, who also works for Tiger, and he and his "wife" will start investigating further while Tiger waits with 100 ninjas. In a sequence insulting to both the audience and the people of Japan, Tiger's associates make Bond look Japanese. We buy it because we're told to, but honestly, Sean Connery just looks creepy. That night, Bond and Aki make love, but she dies a painful death when poison intended for Bond drips into her mouth instead.

Bond moves on quickly, hoping to make love to Kissy, his new "wife," after a fake wedding sequence that is just too long and boring. It really feels out of place in a Bond movie. Bond and Kissy snoop around and find the volcano. Wanting to see how deep the liquid is, they throw a rock into it – but it's actually metal. A the metal roof opens and a helicopter comes out. Bond sends Kissy to go get Tiger and the ninjas, while he sneaks into the volcano base with suction cups.

Inside the volcano, Bond breaks free the American and Russian astronauts being held there. With their help, he disguises himself as one of S.P.E.C.T.R.E.'s astronauts about to go back up into space to "eat" another American craft. Blofeld notices that something is amiss and stops Bond. Finally, at almost one hour and forty minutes into the fifth movie in the franchise, Blofeld reveals himself to Bond and the audience. Donald Pleasance turns around and utters "Allow me to introduce myself," revealing his scarred face and identity as Number One of S.P.E.C.T.R.E. Pleasance's Blofeld is so memorable, and obviously will be the version of the character parodied as Dr. Evil in the Austin Powers films. After the failings of S.P.E.C.T.R.E.'s missions in Jamaica, Turkey, and Nassau, Blofeld is now a much more hands-on leader. He doesn't want to fail again.

Tiger and the ninjas come, but Blofeld has already launched his spacecraft again, and his crater guns kill off quite a few before they are able to break their way into the volcano. A big, fun battle inside the volcano ensues, but Blofeld watches from the control room. He tells Bond, "I look forward to killing you myself," but he's really quite the procrastinator. He has a gun pointed at Bond but decides to shoot Osato instead. Blofeld escapes before his base is completely destroyed. Bond manages to destroy Blofeld's spacecraft before it is able to capture the American vessel and incite World War III that will destroy the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. so that the Chinese, who hiredd Blofeld, can become the new superpower. It's a riveting sequence because he know that if Bond doesn't succeed, the Americans will launch missiles at the Russians, and because we get to watch the happenings in outer space on a monitor in Blofeld's control room, making us wonder how exactly did he install cameras in space?

The volcano starts to explode, and Bond and Kissy make it out to the sea. In another memorable sea rescue, Bond and Kissy make out on a raft until a British submarine ascends from right underneath the raft.

Overall, the plot is pretty crazy, but once we accept that Blofeld does indeed have the technology to hollow out a volcano and develop his own space program, it's not as illogical as the plots of the past two movies. The threat of the Cold War turning hot is believable and menacing – making 'You Only Live Twice' the quintessential "larger-than-life" Bond film.


Also in the You Only Live Twice dossier:   Allies | Gadgets | Girls | Pictures | Reviews | Villains
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