Wednesday, January 22, 2014

#1,255. You Only Live Twice (1967)

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 owned on video, 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.

Like I said, that was many years ago. Being more familiar with the franchise these days, and having recently seen Dr. No, From Russia with Love, Goldfinger, and Thunderball, I now recognize that You Only Live Twice was a step in the wrong direction.

We open in outer space, where a mysterious craft envelops 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. The British, however, are convinced another power is responsible because the intruding ship landed not in Russia, but the Sea of Japan.

To assist their American allies, 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 stir up trouble between the U.S. and Russia. It is up to Agent 007 to expose SPECTRE and, in the process, prevent yet another World War.

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 teamed with 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; intended as a disguise to protect him from SPECTRE, it instead made 007 look like a fool, and today comes across as incredibly insensitive.

Yet the main issue I had with the film were the missed opportunities, especially in the action department. Late in the movie, Bond is undergoing a training regimen at Tanaka’s school for ninjas. Though his instruction supposedly lasts a few weeks, we are shown only one brief segment from his time there, when Bond faces off against an undercover SPECTRE agent (who he defeats far too easily).

Most disappointing of all, though, was the scene with “Little Nellie”, a gyrocopter and the 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 in the making. Bond does, indeed, get 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, gets the movie off to a good start, as does Nancy Sinatra’s title song, which is one of my favorites of the series, ranking just behind Shirley Bassey’s Goldfinger and Adele’s Skyfall. Also, the two 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 negatives outweigh the positives in this film, making You Only Live Twice the franchise’s first misfire.


Joe Blevins said...

It's been a while -- a LONG while -- since I've revisited YOLT, and now I think that I don't want to. I might discover, as you did, that the film isn't as cool as I remember it. Still, the song is a classic, and this movie has (as you mentioned) two of the prettiest Bond girls in the entire series. Akiko and Mie were both in "What's Up, Tiger Lily?" too.

Forgotten Films said...

I just rewatched this one the other night. I'm working my way through all of them with my kids. It does drag a little in the early parts. My son commented on the lack of action up to the helicopter scene. However, I pointed out to him that Bond beats up a guy with a couch! That's gotta be worth something.

You are right that there are some missed opportunities. For me, the biggie is there is the set up for some good martial arts action that never really materializes.