Ah, You Only Live Twice. This is one of the more landmark titles in the James Bond catalog for a few reasons. The novel (the twelfth book in the series) was the last published during Ian Fleming's lifetime. The book took place immediately after On Her Majesty's Secret Service, which meant that YOLT essentially followed Bond as he hunted down Blofeld to avenge his dead wife. In many ways, this was part of a decade-long evolution for the character. The film, though, was only the fifth Bond made, and I think we can agree that character evolution is definitely not a high priority in the film franchise. This one actually came out before OHMSS, too, so...if Bond hasn't been married yet in the film series, then what is he supposed to be doing in this movie?
After the underwater ridiculousness of Thunderball, it is not that surprising that You Only Live Twice opens with a sequence set in another unlikely location: space. When the Americans send some astronauts into orbit in a pellet-sized spacecraft, everything goes off without a hitch. Once it is in orbit, though, another significantly larger spacecraft sneaks up behind it and pulls a Pac-Man.
|"It's like my worst nightmare for my penis. What?!?" - Actual quote from me, 10 years ago|
|Ninjas, obviously. It is Japan, you know.|
Normally, you would assume the answer to be James Bond (Sean Connery). Sadly, he was murdered about five minutes into the film and given a funeral at sea. I guess that's what happens when entire international terrorist organizations know who you are; when the "secret" in "secret agent" goes away, you are basically a walking target. Bond was such a terrible secret agent that his death was even front page news! Thankfully, the audience is saved from a film where Q (Desmond Llewelyn) uses his gadgets to infiltrate/seduce his way through an island fortress. James Bond isn't actually dead, silly! It was all a ruse to convince SPECTRE, the SPecial Executive for Counter-intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge and Extortion, of Bond's death. With that one man, who they were presumably tracking constantly, out of the way, they can go about their evil plans with less secrecy and/or care. That means they can launch Pac-Man spaceships from their secret volcano base whenever they want, especially if their next target is a Russian spacecraft; with the Americans and Russians missing ships
|"You have got to be bullshitting me" Nope.|
I've been thinking a bit about SPECTRE's acronym lately. Sure, you've got to love any group of admitted terrorists and extortionists that also include revenge as a key value --- organizations that take personal interests in their henchmen are the most successful kind --- but I don't know how much I like the "SP." Did they just come up with "SPECTRE" and then try to find words to fit the acronym, but they couldn't think of any nasty words that begin with "P"? Or did they just add the "P" because they thought that "SECTRE" sounded too ridiculous? Personally, I would have been happy with rearranging the acronym to spell "STREEC"; the monologues would have been great: "And we will STREEC our vengeance across the baseball field of capitalism, until security apprehends us...no, wait..."
|Although STREEC would imply why so many of their agents get naked|
You Only Live Twice was Sean Connery's final Bond movie, until he made two more. While he is certainly not as charming or bad-ass as he had been in the last few films, Connery still turned in an okay performance. His toupee (he wore one in every Bond pic) was a bit more noticeable to me this time, though, and the script required him to look fairly incompetent as a secret agent --- him getting shown up by Aki so easily was painful to watch --- but Connery managed to not look embarrassed by the film's stupidity, at least. The villain du jour was SPECTRE Number One, Blofeld (Donald Pleasence) himself. This was the first time audiences got to see the villain's face, and he was suitably memorable. While Blofeld isn't terribly impressive here --- he commits the sin of not killing Bond in a timely fashion --- he is suitably ruthless and ridiculous in equal parts. Pleasence is fine, though his role requires him to keep a monotonous vocal cadence and an effeminate walk.
|Blofeld chokes out an incompetent underling|
|L-R: Hama acting, Connery bored|
You Only Live Twice was the first Bond film to be directed by Lewis Gilbert. The result was...okay, I guess. This movie feels like a more ridiculous version of Dr. No in many ways (which mediocre screenwriter/excellent author Roald Dahl freely admitted), and the plot elements that differentiate it from other Bond movies --- Japan, basically --- aren't handled very well. To be fair, it is easy to laugh at the low-rent ninjas in this movie, but this film was made before any awesome kung-fu movies had success in the West. Gilbert inherited quite a mess when he signed up for this movie --- he had a first-time screenwriter, a star openly planning to leave the franchise, they had to recast Blofeld after filming started, the screenplay essentially omits the entire book, and the Japanese actresses had to switch roles because Mie Hama's English was so bad --- so I suppose it is a miracle that You Only Live Twice is as good as it is. Still, the only truly iconic moment this entry in the series has is the appearance of Blofeld. Aside from that, Gilbert oversaw a lot of ridiculousness.
What sets You Only Live Twice apart from the films that came before it is just how hilariously stupid entire chunks of the plot are. Now, I own (and have read) the novel that the film takes its title from, and I can attest that the book --- which spends a lot of time just describing Japanese things --- would have made for a difficult direct adaptation. Roald Dahl's screenplay (the first Bond screenplay to deviate significantly from the source material) is not much of an improvement. I liked that the filmmakers attempted to address Bond's failure as a secret agent, but everything past that was just goofy. There are suspiciously placed trap doors, villains who allegedly recognize everything about Bond (including his gun!) but fail to recognize him in a face-to-face (and, in one case, junk-to-junk) interaction, and the action highlight is Bond in a weaponized mini-copter.
|And that is the "usual" reception|
|The result: a stereotypical Japanese man|