You Only Live Twice (1967)

Untitled-1In my review of Thunderball, I marveled at the seemingly innumerable skills and talents possessed by James Bond. He can do it all: Paraglide, jump out of cars, windsurf, etc. If a train was about to ram into him at full speed, he could leap out of the way just in time, maintain his hair, and still make it home in time for supper. Now, if that’s not impressive enough, watch You Only Live Twice. Even more skills are added to his repertoire. He can now crack safes, scale volcanoes, fly ridiculous-looking mini helicopters, and speak Japanese.

Actually no, he can’t speak Japanese. But Sean Connery tries his best to make us believe he can.

He reminds Moneypenny (Lois Maxwell) in an early scene that he took Oriental Language in Cambridge, and yet the only Japanese words he knows are the equivalents of “thank you” and “please”. Cambridge will be utterly disappointed. They might even want to consider dropping Oriental Languages from their curriculum. Unless, of course, Bond just got rusty. Luckily for him, all the Japanese people who will aid him in his defeat of a mutual foe can speak fluent English. Or at least their dubbing doubles can.

From the Bond movies I’ve seen so far, You Only Live Twice is the first to genuinely make England a powerful nation. It is presented as a country of power, initiative, quick decisions, and effective solutions. At a meeting between America and Russia (and the third-wheeling England), the Brits are the only ones who come up with a plan. They keep the order too. Here’s why: A mysterious nation, or organisation, has been capturing American and Russian space capsules and disappearing into god knows where. The Americans blame the Russians and the Russians blame the Americans. Clearly someone wants to reboot the Cold War. When the heads of the nations meet, they argue like children, allowing the Brits in the middle to pacify. The Americans warn the Russians that they are going to launch another capsule into space in a couple of weeks, and that if the same thing happens again, they will know who to go after. The Russians respond by sending a capsule of their own into space before the Americans do. Wow. This is clever strategy and mature planning. Then, when both capsules disappear, both nations plan to send yet more capsules into space. This time, though, they’re ready; they sit in front of large military monitors like a bunch of panel judges, constantly receiving updates about their capsules. Is it still in space? Has it been abducted yet? Do we have better things to do with our lives than to send astronauts into space for no reason whatsoever, and then grumble like babies when they disappear time and time again? Both countries show no intelligence.

But England does.

She sends in James Bond, her one-man Swiss army knife. He liaises with the Japanese contacts and together, they try to uncover the identity of this mysterious capsule snatcher while the Americans and Russians suck on their thumbs. This part of the movie is brilliant. It works like a crime suspense mystery. Bond tracks down leads and clues, gradually learns more about the case, reports back to his contacts, and then repeats the process. As he uncovers more information, so do we. We are seldom ahead of him. Tension is raised and then relaxed, and then raised again.

Then comes the third act, which is as preposterous as the set it takes place in. For reasons I shall not say, Bond and a large band of ninjas infiltrate a hollowed out lair in a volcano. If you’ve seen Austin Powers at all, you will understand this reference. This infiltration is action-packed, yes, but, like the climax of Thunderball, becomes messy and difficult to keep track of. Bodies fly as if doing acrobats, explosions fill the screen, people are running and screaming, and Bond instinctively goes after the bad guy. It is a finale that is too grand for the movie it starts out to be. It explodes and crackles, but does so to the detriment of the dialogue-heavy suspense that introduces it. It’s a good movie, but it isn’t fantastic. One thing’s positive though: The fight scenes are a lot better than the ones in Thunderball.

Best Moment | There is an extreme wide shot of Bond running away from dock thugs on the roof of a building that I thought was rather lovely. The camera pulls back as we see little specks running on the roof. Occasionally Bond fights off an attacker. Great stuff.

Worst Moment | Yay for green screens. The shot of Aki sitting on the boat with the superimposed sea and sunset behind her is godawful. The colour’s all wrong, the lighting’s bizarre, and she looks semi-stoned.

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