You Only Live Twice

You Only Live Twice (1967) Director: Lewis Gilbert

Cinema poster showing Sean Connery as James Bond sitting in a pool of water and being attended to by eight black-haired Japanese women


This was Lewis Gilbert’s first time directing a Bond film (he would later return to the genre with The Spy Who Loved Me in 1977 and Moonraker, both featuring Roger Moore). Interestingly enough, the script for You Only Live Twice was written by noted children’s novelist, Roald Dahl (very loosely based on the Ian Fleming novel). It was Dahl’s first screenplay. It was also the first to discard most of the plot of a Fleming novel (lamentably). This was originally intended to be Sean Connery’s final Bond film, but he later returned in Diamonds Are Forever in 1971.

At the outset a NASA spacecraft is suddenly swallowed whole by another spacecraft. The US blames Russia (with the British amusingly acting as arbiter) while the U.K. blames Japan, since the unidentified aircraft appears to land somewhere in the sea of Japan. International hostilities are high and time is short to discover what happened before war breaks out. To investigate, Bond fakes his own death and travels to Tokyo where he witnesses a sumo match. He is taken by Aki, a secret spy disguised as a geisha, to another MI6 agent who is promptly killed via stabbing. Bond chases down the assailant and assumes his clothing, in disguise, and takes his place in the getaway car. He steals documents from the destination but is rescued at the last moment by Aki. Not sure if she can be trusted, Bond chases Aki through a subway until he falls down a trap door to the underground lair of Tiger Tanaka, a secret double agent who is rarely seen in public. They investigate Bond’s stolen papers, which lead them to a ship called the ning-po, meanwhile Bond and Aki fall for each other. Eventually Bond is led to a secret base inside a volcano which leads him to his arch-nemesis, Ernst Stavro Blofeld, the leader of SPECTRE. His lair is fully equipped with a pool of flesh-hungry piranhas (which he employs when one of his henchmen fails to kill Bond). Aki is tragically killed by mistaken poisoning when a SPECTRE agent tries to poison Bond, so Bond and Tanaka infiltrate and booby-trap the volcano, while Bond attempts to board, in disguise, SPECTRE’s space rocket. Bond is captured at the last moment and taken to Blofeld (where he meet the unimpressive Blofeld for the first time). The launch of the rocket is intended to create a nuclear war between the U.S. and the USSR, however a group of Japanese ninjas suddenly arrive at the volcano. For this odd twist, the ninjas attack the base allowing Bond to activate the self-destruct sequence for SPECTRE’s rocket, thus preventing nuclear war. Blofeld activates the base’s self-destruction and he escapes, leaving Bond, Tanaka, and the ninjas to escape.

After Frank Sinatra turned down the opportunity to sing the title song, Nancy Sinatra, his daughter, sung the title song. The film is unique for mostly taking place in Japan.

You Only Live Twice (the title alludes to Bond’s fake death at the outset) is a pretty weak film, even for a Bond picture. Perhaps the most ridiculous scene (aside from the end with the deus ex machina ninjas that arrive to save Bond) is one in which Q suddenly shows up and gives Bond a miniature helicopter mobile. Instantly, and only once, Bond uses the vehicle to destroy four other helicopters chasing him: he destroys one with a machine gun, another with rockets, another with missiles, and the last with a backwards shooting flamethrower. Again, the plot is somewhat confusing – why is Blofeld actually trying to start a nuclear war between the U.S. and the USSR? And why, in this dramatic first meeting, does Blofeld (played by Donald Pleasence) appear so ridiculous?

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