Posted November 26, 2010 by editor in Retrospectives

You Only Live Twice

Oh my god, James Bond is dead!!! Wait… oh…. no, he’s just pretending. PHEW. Cue opening credits.
The credit sequence is perhaps one of the best things about this film; Nancy Sinatra floats on air as she sings the title song, famous for ‘inspiring’ Robbie Williams’ chart topping ‘Millennium’. The orient is already showing itself to be a strong influence on this film through the Japanese fanned graphics and kimono clad girls accompanying the credits; it is altogether one of the prettier Bond sequences.

Perhaps more famous for ‘Alfie’ and ‘Shirley Valentine’ than his stint in the Bond directorial chair, Lewis Gilbert makes a good effort of directing his first Bond film, but You Only Live Twice is not a patch on Thunderball (which preceded it) or On Her Majesty’s Secret Service which follows. It’s just all a bit too wet behind the ears for my liking, with Roald Dahl’s screen play lacking in much in the way of action or witty one-liners, badly needed to keep the pace up.

Sean Connery is more than comfortable in his fifth Bond endeavour; in fact he almost seems to be a bit lackadaisical and without the script to bump him up he is a slightly dreary Bond, perhaps in need of a bit of a holiday. The plot is certainly nothing we haven’t seen before: once again SPECTRE are up to their old tricks, this time secretly hi-jacking USSR/USA space ships in a bid to instigate a war between the two precariously balanced nations, somehow enabling them to receive one million yen (or something or the other) in gold bullion from an unspecified nation. All Bond has to do is track down who is behind the plot (you’d have thought guesswork alone would get him there, considering SPECTRE’s track record so far…) and push the relevant buttons before the timer hits zero. Easy peasy.

Accordingly, the most part the film is set in Japan, convenient for Bond as “you forgot I have a degree in oriental languages from Cambridge” (one of the most incredibly out of character lines to feature in Dahl’s screenplay, directed at a bemused Miss Moneypenny). There’s not really much in the way of set design as it’s all pretty much on location, offering us some absolutely beautiful shots of a rural Japanese harbour at dawn and Lonely Planet-esque street scenes. Taking advantage of his newfound status as a dead person (remember, James Bond is dead!) and his links with the Japanese Secret Service, Bond swaggers about like he owns the place enjoying all the benefits of his first visit to Japan, helped along the way by Secret Service big-wig Tiger who consistently delights Bond with his Japanese idiosyncrasies, amongst the likes including “in Japan, men come first. Women come second [now give me a naked sponge bath!].”

There’s a much needed appearance from ‘Dad and Little Nelly’, which turns out to be code for Q and an absurdly comical Early Learning Centre, flat-pack helicopter, which Bond intends to use to discover where all the spaceships are coming from, or something. Despite Tiger’s pleas to leave the piece of junk to the scrap heap and take his real helicopter, Bond takes to the skies in Little Nelly, where the most unrealistic of all air battles takes place between Bond and probably SPECTRE or the Chinese, but it’s never made clear. Despite Little Nelly’s clear inferiority to the four armed helicopters attacking him, Bond destroys them all with seemingly little effort.

But it’s the second half of the film which really goes off kilter. After Bond’s love interest is accidentally assassinated, the plot is somewhat abandoned for about half an hour as he is whisked away to Ninja school and for reasons still unfathomable and then turned into a Japanese peasant with a ridiculous hair cut and huge eyebrows. Like a hair cut will mask his 6’ foot something frame. Pfft. Meanwhile, the not quite united nations are bickering away amongst themselves, preparing for the outbreak of galaxy wide nuclear war.

It turns out that the reason nobody could work out the origin of SPECTRE’s strange, phallic, hi-jacking space craft is because they were launching from a fake volcano, cleverly built alongside real volcanoes for added authenticity. Ignoring the fact that even the most basic knowledge of volcanoes would very clearly set SPECTRE’s secret volcano lair (Austin Powers bells ringing yet again) apart from the others – its lava is solid and made of crudely painted metal – Bond stumbles upon it apparently quite by chance. Cue highly explosive climax, in which we finally see the identity of Blofeld and Bond saves the day with a blow-up cigarette dressed as a giant sperm, thereby averting inter-galactic war and winning a pat on the back from the toffs at Whitehall. Hurray!

It’s just all a bit too unlikely for me, and I know in the context of Bond you really do have to suspend your disbelief but You Only Live Twice just plain takes the biscuit. Aside from its magnificent title song, there is nothing about this film to set it on a par with the other Bonds; even the musical score is decidedly lacking which is odd given John Barry’s sterling track record.

Whilst it’s not so unforgivably awful that you’d be put off from watching Bond for good, You Only Live Twice is a hugely disappointing blip on the otherwise high flying track record of Bond Films, and one which made the emergence of George Lazenby as the next face of Bond an all too welcome occurrence. Final verdict: C+; Must try harder.

Dani Singer