Directed By: Lewis Gilbert
Starring: Sean Connery, Akiko Wakabayashi, Mie Hama
Tag line: "Welcome to Japan, Mr. Bond"
Trivia: Director Lewis Gilbert originally turned down the directing job on this movie
You Only Live Twice was the first Bond movie I ever videotaped off of television, and as a result, I became quite a fan of it. In fact, there was a time, many years ago, when this was my favorite of the series. But like I said, that was many years ago. Being a bit more familiar with the Bond franchise these days, and having recently viewed Dr. No, From Russia with Love, Goldfinger, and Thunderball, I now see that You Only Live Twice was a step in the wrong direction.
The movie opens in outer space, where a mysterious craft swallows up a U.S. spaceship in mid-flight. The Americans blame the Russians, accusing them of trying to gain the upper hand in the space race, but the British are convinced another power is responsible (mostly because the intruding ship landed not in Russia, but the Sea of Japan). To prove this theory, British Intelligence sends their best agent, James Bond (Sean Connery), to Tokyo. After faking his own death, Bond goes deep undercover, and with the help of Tiger Tanaka (Tetsurô Tanba), head of the Japanese Secret Service, discovers the true culprit behind the attack is SPECTRE, which, under the leadership of Ernst Blofeld (Donald Pleasance), is trying to start a war between the U.S. and Russia. It’s up to Agent 007 to expose SPECTRE and, in the process, prevent another World War from breaking out.
You Only Live Twice has a number of problems, starting with Agent 007’s “partner” in this particular venture, Tiger Tanaka. While competently played by Tetsurô Tanba, Tiger was a poor replacement for Felix Leiter, who had assisted Bond in three of the previous four films (absent only in From Russia with Love). And the less said about Bond’s Japanese make-up, the better (meant as a disguise to protect him from SPECTRE, it instead made 007 look like a fool). Yet what really bothered me about the movie were the various missed opportunities in the action department. Late in the film, Bond is being trained at Tanaka’s ninja school. Despite the fact his instruction supposedly lasts a few weeks, we’re only shown one brief segment of this training, when Bond faces off against an undercover SPECTRE agent (who he defeats way too easily). Most disappointing of all, though, was the scene with “Little Nellie”, a gyrocopter and the one and only gadget Bond receives from “Q” (Desmond LLewelyn). Equipped with rocket launchers, forward machine guns, and a flamethrower in the rear, “Little Nellie” was a force to be reckoned with, and when 007 took her out to do some reconnaissance, I was sure an epic battle was about to take place. Bond does, indeed, enter into a firefight with a squadron of SPECTRE helicopters, but the entire conflict was so poorly executed (the exploding copters looked as if they were standing still) that I wasn’t the least bit excited by it.
You Only Live Twice does have its strengths. The pre-title sequence, featuring the initial incident in space and the “death” of James Bond, starts the movie off well, as does Nancy Sinatra’s title song, which is one of my favorites of the series (ranking just behind Shirley Bassey’s Goldfinger and just ahead of Adele’s Skyfall). Also, the two main Bond girls, Aki (Akiko Wakabayashi) and Kissy Suzuki (Mie Hama), are stunningly beautiful, as is the Japanese setting, which the movie utilizes to great effect. Unfortunately, the minuses far outweigh the plusses in this film, making You Only Live Twice the series’ first misfire.