My prior experience with You Only Live Twice is that it always seems to be the movie that starts playing when I’m idly zapping the TV late on a summer evening, I’ll watch the opening bit with the big spaceship eating the smaller spaceship, then the credits (“ooh! Roald Dahl wrote the screenplay!”) and then I’ll usually lose interest and go to bed or do something else.
Anyway, I’ve finally made myself watch the rest of it for once. Spoilers, as usual.
After the gloriously batty space scene mentioned in the lead where a NASA capsule gets… stolen, the US blame the Russians, the Russian claim they had nothing to do with it, and the UK mediate and say they’ll get their best man onto it.
After a quickie in Hong Kong, Bond gets trapped in a murphy bed where he’s gunned down. He’s dead! Like, it’s actually him and not some sap in a mask like in From Russia With Love.
A little more elaborate, this time we have an outbreak of orientalism, with some shots of lava. Nancy Sinatra takes on the title song, which is, you know, a typical Bond theme.
John Barry’s hook from the song becomes a recurring motif throughout the film, it bears mentioning that while he took on some of the spirit, he didn’t go full-on orientalism. Which showed a bit more restraint than some other aspects of the film’s production.
Aside from Bond’s re-introduction and “burial at sea” in Hong Kong, the bulk of the movie takes place in and around Japan, with Tokyo, Kobe and Kagoshima being featured. Aside from all the ninja crap (which is fine because it is a stupid action movie set in Japan) it doesn’t come across as a total weeaboo fantasy.
We finally get a good look at Blofeld, but it’s not a good look. He’s played with aplomb by Donald Pleasance, who manages to pull off the idea that he’s the same guy with the low tolerance for failure as in the last two obscured appearances. The disfigurement make-up is a bit crap, yes, but it works anyhow. And would we have ever gotten Mr Evil from Austin Powers without it?
SPECTRE’s evil plot this time involves instigating total war between the US and the Soviets, this time by stealing their manned space probes and making them think each other did it. It’s a significant advance in SPECTRE’s capabilities since Dr. No’s crappy little rocket buzzing operation. After the abduction of the first US ship, they grab one of the Soviets’ probes as well, and fully expect that after they steal a second US ship, all hell will break loose.
The main organiser of this operation is Mr. Osato (Teru Shimada), head of the zaibatsu that used its resources to establish the sekrit volcano base. There’s nothing particularly wrong with Mr Osato, he’s just evil. Karin Dor plays the part of Helga Brandt, who fronts as Osato’s secretary, but is actually a beautiful but incompetent assassin. She suffers the ultimate consequence for not finishing Bond, although perhaps also because Blofeld thought his piranhas were getting a bit hungry and he couldn’t bothered getting the fish flakes.
There’s also some lunkhead called Hans who’s been charged with minding the keys to the abductor rocket’s destruct button; while he is well’ard, he is no match for Bond’s newly acquired ninja reflexes and thus also ends up feeding the fishes.
The help is actually helpful, this time. Tiger Tanaka (Tetsurō Tamba) is the charismatic head of the local secret service, and while he’s an epicurean sexist pig just like Bond, two of his best agents are Aki (Akiko Wakabayashi) and Kissy (Mie Hama). While capable, Aki is killed halfway through the film because it’s a classic 007 film where the first squeezes get bumped off for the sake of dramatic tension or formula, so Kissy takes up the slack for the final act.
(Note to modern film-makers – Asian actors actually played the Asian characters.)
He also has a band of ninjas, and bizarrely, encourages Bond to go native to fit in and train to be just like them (NINJA MONTAGE!), and Tanaka even arranges a “marriage” to Kissy. This all ensues in the small amount of time before the next US launch.
As Bond infiltrates the base, Kissy goes back and summons Tanaka and the ninjas and while Bond fucks up his chance to become an astronaut this time when Blofeld spots him, eventually he figures out how to let the ninjas into the base so they can flip out and be awesome with their real ultimate power while Bond blows up the SPECTRE shuttle before it can grab some more astronauts.
Then Blofeld triggers the base’s self-destruct sequence so everyone has to high tail it out of there. Blofeld manages to escape although he’ll look completely different in the next film, but that’s fine because that’ll also apply to Bond.
The hero gadget is Little Nell, a minicopter, brought all the way to Japan by her “father”, Q. Q also gives Bond some cigarettes that double as minirockets, which gives the quartermaster an opportunity to chide Bond about his smoking habit, a concern shared with about half the other characters in the film.
By this stage there was a set formula for this that Dahl had to adhere to for the screenplay: Bond gets to root Brandt, who dies; Aki, who dies; and Kissy, who gets to be the squeeze in the life-raft for this instalment. Essentially Bond is a full-on walking STI.
Dom Perignon gets a mention (check), he takes a swig of Siamese vodka, and Bond’s anally specific requirements about the stuff that he gets blotto on also applies to sake as well.
Bond going native. I mean, watching it, I thought it was not good. At least the underwater scenes were mercifully brief compared with last time around.
Connery had obviously been doing less of his own stunts, for which one can’t blame him. During the foot-chase at the dockyard, there’s one glaringly obvious switcheroo where his double flops onto a crash mat to hide behind it and then Connery himself emerges.
I mentioned Roald Dahl getting roped in to write the screenplay a couple of times, since 007 stalwart Richard Maibaum was doing something else, I don’t know what, Wikipedia doesn’t say. I think it worked. From what I gather about Dahl’s life, he was charming, intelligent and witty, but also a complete arsehole, which made him perfect to write for a Bond movie. Certainly I don’t think it jars in the midst of all the Maibaum-penned films.
The other thing I note is that Lewis Gilbert directed this one, which I had not realised. He later on did The Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker, which I will get unreasonably excited about when I get to revisit those, even though the 007 films were virtually kids’ films by then.
I enjoyed this one. It had a ludicrous plot, an iconic villain – I dug that they kept Blofeld hidden for a dramatic reveal – hot women, some pretty good action sequences (and some really cheap ones), a suitably villainous villain base, astronauts, cosmonauts, ninjas. It’s not regarded as one of the better Bond films but, you know, it’s still pretty good fun.
I’m giving this one 15 piranha fish out of 20