You Only Live Twice (1967) / Action-Adventure

MPAA rated: PG for brief nudity, violence, scenes of smoking, and mild language (probably PG-13 today)
Length: 117 min.

Cast: Sean Connery, Akiko Wakabayashi, Tetsuro Tanba, Mie Hama, Donald Pleasance, Karin Dior, Teru Shimada, Bernard Lee, Lois Maxwell, Desmond Llewelyn, Charles Gray
Director: Lewis Gilbert
Screenplay: Roald Dahl (the title is based on the novel by Ian Fleming)
Review published January 20, 2013

You Only Live Twice 1967James Bond (Connery, Goldfinger) is on assignment in Hong Kong, where his death is staged in order to make all the bad guys think they no longer need follow the world's greatest secret agent.  He resurfaces in Japan, where he is on a mission to investigate the whereabouts of a spaceship that has been built in order to capture other space capsules, which has resulted in heightened tensions between the United States and Soviet Union, with each country pointing fingers and drumming up talk of war with the other for the misdeed.  He joins forces with Japanese allies Tiger Tanaka (Tanba, Harakiri) and his assistant Aki (Wakabayashi, Ghidorah) to find the hidden lair where such a spacecraft could be hidden, and along the way, evidence begins to point in the direction of the possible involvement of the dreaded terrorist organization, SPECTRE, helmed by the nefarious, cat-petting Ernst Stavro Blofeld (Pleasance, Escape to Witch Mountain).

You Only Live Twice
is the fifth official James Bond film, continuing the successful string of Sean Connery in the lead role.  Although not as tight as the earlier Bonds in terms of pace, the film does bounce back from the slack-filled and redundant entry that was Thunderball with much more story and emphasis on the mission instead of padded scenes of action.  Connery's take on the 007 persona had grown less intense and more reliant of self-aware charisma, possibly due to the actor's boredom, which would become the norm for the character's tone through the next decade's worth of 007 adventures. 

It also would be the start of movie one-upmanship in the over-the-top climax department for the series, as evidenced from the sheer size and magnitude of the battle on a gargantuan set, designed by Ken Adam (Agnes of God, Addams Family Values), in the shell of a volcano between an horde of ninjas and a well-armed army of SPECTRE agents, technicians and scientists.  In a way, it's the first of the many 'sci-fi'-tinged Bonds that would permeate many of the entries released in the 1970s and 1980s.

It's not all stunts and Connery.  You Only Live Twice has one of the best John Barry (Walkabout, The Man with the Golden Gun) scores of any of the Bond films, and Nancy Sinatra delivers one of the best opening themes. The script is by noted author Roald Dahl (Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory), and it is one of the more interesting plots of the early Bond films, though it all but completely ignores the Ian Fleming novel upon which it is based in title, which Dahl claims is due to the Japanese travelogue aspect of the book, in which Fleming described in great detail the Japanese culture at the expense of an adaptable storyline. 

It is the first Bond directed by Lewis Gilbert, who would score again later with The Spy Who Loved Me, perhaps the best of the Roger Moore Bond films (though, to be fair, he also directed Moonraker, one of the worst).  Combined with the music, the cinematography by Freddie Young (Sword of the Valiant, Battle of Britain) is one of the best of the Connery days, making this a treat for the eyes and ears.  Blofeld's face is finally shown in this film, played by Donald Pleasance, and would later be parodied by Michael Myers in the character of Dr. Evil in the Austin Powers movies.  Keep an eye on Blofeld's cat in the later scenes, as the rampant explosions and gunfire make Pleasance's task of keeping the scared kitty on his arm something of an impossibility, and he finally just gives up.

You Only Live Twice is a solid Bond adventure, but it isn't perfect, as it feels a little on the long side, some of the effects shots look cheap, the Bond girls aren't particularly memorable, and one wonders why Blofeld would keep Bond alive throughout the finale, particularly after he already has taken a risk of his life to completely screw the operation over by giving the 'good guys' a way to infiltrate the volcanic fortress.  The hair and make-up job done on Sean Connery is wholly unconvincing, looking like he belongs on an episode of 'Star Trek' than walking among Japanese culture as a brethren.  Dahl's screenplay also recreates some plot ploints of Dr. No and From Russia with Love, though enough differences in the culture of the locale mask it from being an out-and-out ripoff.

However, most of these detractions are easily glossed over by the considerable upside, and while You Only Live Twice isn't one of the best Bond films, it emerges as one of the more consistently entertaining of the wholly formulaic entries, and gives fans everything they could want from an adventure and more.

During the filming of You Only Live Twice, Connery announced he would retire from playing the spy in order to pursue other acting gigs and avoid being typecast, leaving the door open for George Lazenby to assume the role for what might arguably have been the best in the series should Connery have stayed in the role, On Her Majesty's Secret Service.  Despite the announcement, with a sizable paycheck, Connery would be back for one more, though, as he appeared in Diamonds Are Forever, before resurfacing in the 1980s with the unofficial non-EOS entry, Never Say Never Again.
Qwipster's rating:  

©2013 Vince Leo