Someone is high jacking NASA and Soviet spacecraft while in orbit! At the height of the space race of the 1960s, the mysterious disappearances of these vessels have the USA blaming Russia, and Russia blaming the USA. Both are threatening war!
Meanwhile, the cool heads in Britain’s MI6 have noted how these spacecrafts’ return to earth end somewhere in the Sea of Japan, making Japan their top suspect.
After faking his death to get the international criminal organisation SPECTOR off of his tail, James Bond (Sean Connery) is sent to Tokyo to investigate. There, Bond finds himself looking into Osato Chemicals after his Japanese contact is murdered by one of its employees. Bond steals some of Osato documents, and brings them to the head of the Japanese Secret Service, Tiger Tanaka (Tetsuro Tamba). The documents reveal the head of the company as a SPECTOR agent who is supplying the organization with rocket fuel. Now why would SPECTOR need rocket fuel… if they were not sending rockets into space!
There are parts of You Only Live Twice I remembered as not being PC. Mostly, the part where they turn James Bond “Japanese.” I mean, there is blackface and then there is half naked women applying prosthetic make up to Sean Connery’s eye lids. And you know… the results are not that great. Sarah commented on how they made him look more so like Mr. Spock than East Asian. I agree.
Bond’s entire trip to Japan features an insane amount of racism and fetishism. Several Japanese women bath him because “in Japan, men come first”. Then Tiger takes Bond on a tour of Japan’s training facilities where the men are learning to use Samurai swords and shurikens. Come on, World War II didn’t set Japan back 200 years, lol. If this movie was made today the justified internet outrage would ensure no one involved would work in Hollywood again.
But, it came out in the 1960s, it made over 100 million world wide, and everyone had long careers afterward. So, like a lot of older films, you have to put it into the context of when it was released or not watch it.
With that in mind, You Only Live Twice is still below par. Even for James Bond, the story is as messy as it is implausible. The original story in Ian Fleming’s novel was adapted by his friend, Roald Dahl (Yes, THAT Roald Dahl). Dahl was upfront about how he viewed it as Fleming’s worst book and he had no idea how he was going to make it into a movie. He only carried over “four or five ideas” from it and chose a plot “similar to Dr. No” during the few months he had to write the script.
I remember as a kid being let down by the reveal of Ernest Blofeld who had been built up since From Russia With Love as a menacing man who will eventually be a true opponent for Bond. Instead, we get Donald Pleasence. A fine actor, but his voice and appearance in this film is more unsettling than intimidating.
Of course, it was this version of Blofeld which became the visual inspiration for Mike Myers Dr. Evil in the “Austin Powers” series. He didn’t stop there, however, as a lot of the imagery of the space program and underground lair are used too. Really, the absurdity of the plot is ripe for farce.
Now, for what you are really here for: My continuing competition with Sarah to correctly guess how long it would take Bond to get laid. Honestly, I can write an entire post about how this one went. The short of it is, Sarah stuck with 17 minutes (Why not? It has worked well for her so far!) and I changed it up and went with 13 minutes. Bond let us both down by taking 38 minutes to seal the deal with any of the ladies. Since we were both not even close, we decided to call it a draw. The score remains:
Sarah – 4
Mars – 0.0
You Only Live Twice isn’t a terrible movie with plenty moments to like. The first half is as good as any spy thriller since the more silly bits are saved for the last half. There is some great stunt work including Bond using a couch to fend off on rather large guard. The scene where Bond takes out a mini-copper for surveillance and ends up in a dog fight with other choppers was a lot of fun. Absurd, but fun.
I think there was too much pressure to make this film stand out. At this point in 1967, it was thought to be Connery’s last outing as Bond and the popularity of the character had spawned a sea of copy cats. Not only did you have the Harry Palmer and Derek Flint series to compete with, but Columbia Pictures released a James Bond film, Casino Royal staring David Niven a few months prior to this. That’s why “Sean Connery Is James Bond” is predominate in a lot of the promotional material.
So they went bigger than the competition. And bigger isn’t always better.