Fan Reviews (You Only Live Twice)

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"You Only Live Twice" by Overkill

Bond gets married! Bond goes into space!! Bond dies! Unfortunately none of these earth-shattering events actually happen in YOLT. And that’s just three of the disappointments of the biggest Bond to date holds.

With a budget greater than the first four films put together, Bond was now well and truly a business. And as every successful business knows (and as Bond reminded Eliot Carver shortly before turning him into mincemeat) ‘always give the public what they want’.

Following the unbelievable success of Thunderball, the public had decided what it wanted. It wanted action and spectacle. And lots of it. Story, coherence, even acting could be left to those ‘other’ films. Broccoli and Saltzman duly delivered what, at that time, was possibly the most extravagant blockbuster of all time. They also produced possibly the most soulless and vacuous movie in the series.

YOLT has style to spare. The decision to locate the movie in Japan was a masterstroke. In the sixties, Japan was still considered otherworldly to most westerners. Here was a chance for them to experience the thrills of sumo, sake, volcanoes and all that neon! On the subject of volcanoes, Ken Adam created one of the most famous movie sets of all time with his creation of Blofeld’s secret lair. (In fairness, all the most famous sets are Adams, or at least inspired by him). There’s a million dollars right there. The remaining $11.5 million (an astronomical amount at the time) went on gimmicks like Little Nellie, and the expense of filming in the Far East.

A chunk was also delivered to the door of one Roald Dahl. Then more famous for his adult stories than his children’s books, Dahl was commissioned to turn Fleming’s darkest and nastiest book into box-office gold. He failed miserably, despite throwing out almost everything from the original. What we’re left with is a plot that could have come from any one of the many Bond spoofs circulating at the time, and a leaden pace that peaks at the end, but by that point you’ve really lost interest.

The only reason the film holds your attention is the prospect of Bond coming face to face with his REAL nemesis from two of his previous four adventures, Ernst Stavro Blofeld. Jan Werich (who incidentally looked about as menacing as your Granddad) was replaced at the last minute by Donald Pleasance, an actor much more suited to villainy, but given atrocious make-up (never repeated on the character) that made him look like he’d poked himself in the eye. Pleasance is game but comes across a tad too camp to truly convince as the most dangerous man on the planet (a trick Charles Gray would later emulate). The showdown becomes a bit of a damp squib and you just start wishing those bloody ninjas would hurry up.

Connery, by now publicly bored with the role, waltzes through like he couldn’t give a monkey’s, and with the material he has to work with, that’s maybe understandable. Karin Dor as Helga, a cynical attempt to recreate the success of Fiona from Thunderball (she’s even a redhead) is a waste of time, despite looking lovely; Roland Rich, the requisite heavy, is given NOTHING to do except fall into Blofeld’s piranha tank; and Mie Hama fails terribly as Kissy. The only bright sparks in the cast come from Akiko Wakabayashi (Aki) and Tetsuro Tamba (Tiger Tanaka). Aki builds a believable relationship with Bond (rather than just jumping into bed with him) which creates a feeling of genuine loss when she is murdered. Tiger is almost reminiscent of FRWL’s Kerim Bey, such is the friendship that builds between him and Bond. Though isn’t he a little young to be the Japanese equivalent of M?

When all is said and done YOLT is most definitely a movie of its time, and one that has not lasted well. I’m sure in 1967 it may have been the Matrix or Lord of the Rings of its day, in terms of spectacle, but today it stands as showy, cynical film which is more likely to invoke cries of laughter than shouts of joy. But... it does feature the first appearances of both Shane Rimmer and Ed Bishop in Bond films, so it can’t be all bad.


"You Only Live Twice" by Icebreaker

“Little Nelly got a hot reception.”

The first Bond film to have little resemblance to the novel it was based on, “You Only Live Twice” holds credit as the film where our favourite MI6 agent finally meets his arch-nemesis. Featuring a rather outrageous script written by no other than Ronald Dahl, the story keeps Ian Fleming’s characters and settings intact, adding some wild sci-fi/ action elements in the plot that are quite over-the-top even for a Roger Moore film. This is indeed the third most absurd Bond film after “Moonraker” and “Die Another Day”.

After faking his own death, Commander James Bond 007 (Sean Connery) is sent to Japan in order to discover who is behind mysterious hijackings of spaceships in orbit. Yes, the space crafts are hijacked in outer space by a mysterious swallowing missile. Back to the plot, Bond eventually teams up with female agent Aki (Akiko Wakabayashi) and the head of Japanese Secret Service Tiger Tanaka (Tetsuro Tamba) and in order to protect himself from assassins, he is disguised as a Japanese fisherman, trains to become a ninja in a period of days, and eventually gets married to a beautiful Japanese agent whose name we never learn, although she is credited after Ian Fleming’s own character Kissy Suzuki (Mie Hama). But that is not all! SPECTRE (from the previous films) is behind all of this! Their leader is finally revealed as a bald man with a scar named Ernest Stavro Blofield (Donald Pleasence) and they are launching the “swallowing missiles” from a large military base camouflaged as a volcano. Will Bond, his fake wife, and the deadly super-secret ninja squad save the day?

This movie is definitely flawed by the usual Ed Wood filmmaking mess-ups. For example, watch for Aki's car as it changes from a left-hand drive to a right-hand drive when she leaves it to trap Bond. Watch for the “bouncing dead ninjas“ during the climax. Watch for Bond and Aki viewing footage of a helicopter lifting their enemies and dropping them at the sea, even knowing there is no one filming the event. And then the logical mistakes: How on Earth did SPECTRE manage to build that volcano hide-out? Even if they did, how didn’t their rocket launching disturb the villagers? Is this Bond or “Doctor Who“?

Even with logical flaws, “You Only Live Twice” is still one of the most fun Bond adventures. One element that works well is seeing Bond handling the cultural differences in Japan. The character of Tiger Tanaka is perfectly portrayed by Tetsuro Tamba and Bond has a far more active chemistry with Tiger than with the Bond girls here. Speaking of which, although they are both attractive, both actresses appear to have no knowledge of the English language. Their chemistry with Bond is robotic at best. They still have far more charisma than, let’s say, Denise Richards, but they are far from the most memorable Bond girls. As for the villain, Donald Pleasence does a rather fine campy portrayal of Blofield with his limited screen time. This is indeed the villain that inspired Dr. Evil, although Pleasence pales when compared with Telly Savalas‘ more realistic approach.

And the best aspect of the film is indeed the music. John Barry’s score is perhaps the best of the entire series, maybe only topped by his next effort. Nancy Sinatra’s theme song is simply beautiful and so are the “oriental” beats Barry includes throughout the film. Barry achieves excellent results when incorporating Sinatra’s theme in the background music. Another good aspect is that the movie is filled with gadgets and action sequences, the most famous being the Little Nelly flying combat around the volcano. And the ninja attack near the end makes the climax of “You Only Live Twice” one of the most exciting of the entire series.

Although it does have some campy and unbelievable elements, “You Only Live Twice” is still one of the most entertaining Bond adventures. The Japanese setting is well-done, the soundtrack is brilliant, and the action is extreme. One of the best “popcorn” Bond films, although you can’t help but feel that Connery is getting a bit bored with the role.


"You Only Live Twice" by Matt Cook

Bond mania had sunk in with Goldfinger and was intensified with Thunderball, so the fifth film had much to live up to, but also couldn't fail. Whatever film Albert "Cubby" Broccoli and Harry Saltzman chose would be a financial success. However, was that enough to them?

With the longest production time and the largest budget yet for a Bond film, Lewis Gilbert was given $9.5 million to make the biggest Bond movie he could, You Only Live Twice. Along with Ken Adam, Gilbert succeeded in meeting many fans expectations although some felt it ran a bit sluggish at times. Bringing in $111 million, fans and critics gave mixed reviews.
James Bond is sent to Japan after an American spacecraft is abducted by a mysterious ship. After following leads to a small island, Bond discovers, along with forgettable Bond girl Aki, SPECTRE leader Ernst Stavro Blofeld is being paid by a foreign government to start a war between Russia and America.

With the second most famous introduction in the series, after Bond's in Dr. No, Blofeld is seen to be cunning, ruthless and eerie with a facial deformity that can frighten one by just looking into his distant and blank stare. Blofeld runs a colossal empire in a hollowed out volcano, a perfect set design for a Bond movie. Adams used one of the $9 million to build the underground lair. It was the largest creation Adams had ever attempted to erect.

Gilbert directed a film with both high and low points. Along with Adam's creation and some of the most beautiful locations Japan has to offer, Gilbert finally brings us face to face with Bond's archenemy. However, all other characters are easily overlooked, except for Tiger Tanaka. Tanaka, played by Tetsuro Tamba, who is head of Japan's secret service. Tanaka and Bond form a relationship that is reminiscent of Kerim Bey and Bond, however Tamba does a good job of making the role new and his own.
The low points are few and far between. The speed of the film is the first mistake Gilbert made. After the underwater scenes in Thunderball, audiences were looking for a faster pace in the next movie of the series. Gilbert couldn't deliver. To show the beauty and deep culture Japan has to offer, Gilbert had to separate the action pieces more than audiences wanted. Gilbert's second mistake is he doesn't use the location to its fullest. Bond sees very little of the islands of Japan during his investigation. The final disappointment of You Only Live Twice is the performance by Sean Connery. He gives a lacklustre routine as Bond and even took a break from the series after this movie. His resistance can be seen during the action of the film when he just looks to be going through the motions.

Yet, when there is an action sequence, it is fantastic, over-the-top and makes up for the lack of speed and visual locales. The final battle in the volcano and the aerial scene with Q's latest contraption are unforgettable. You Only Live Twice introduced us to Little Nellie. This small gyrocopter is bombarded by four of SPECTRE's helicopters and easily comes out on top with the help of Q's special modifications.

Another wonderful addition to the film is Bond composer John Barry. Barry hits gold again with his arrangement in You Only Live Twice. Barry's musical piece during the space rockets in flight is a cornerstone of Bond music now.

The film version of You Only Live Twice is very different from Fleming's book. Roald Dahl uses very little of the literature to write the screenplay. Dahl focuses more on creating a stupefying plot than down-to-earth schemes and character development. We still know very little about Bond's nemesis when the film is over. Dahl conceived a story that would be copied many times in the series - starting a war between two countries for personal gain. This was far from Fleming's vision, however the movie becomes exquisite and a classic entry in the series.


"You Only Live Twice" by zDBZ

In the year 1967, producers Cubby Broccoli and Harry Saltzman were on top of the world, the success of four James Bond films safely behind them, Thunderball making more than $141 million. Now, for the fifth 007 film, Broccoli and Saltzman did a first; they ignored virtually every element of Ian Fleming's novel. Pushing On Her Majesty's Secret Service back yet again, the two moved forward with You Only Live Twice. Lewis Gilbert was given the job of directing the gigantic film, bringing in Academy Award-winning cinematographer Freddie Young. With Richard Maibaum unavailable, novelist Roald Dahl was brought in. Though a fan of Ian Fleming's work, Dahl opted for a fantasy tale, with space travel, action, and gadgetry. Ken Adam had his hands full, building a volcano headquarters set too large to fit into a studio. Sean Connery returned for his fifth outing as Bond, but the paparazzi, media frenzy, and long shooting schedules were weighing down on the actor. While in production, Connery publicly announced that this would be his final appearance as James Bond.

Up against the big-budget Bond spoof Casino Royale, and with the spymania boom beginning to subside, You Only Live Twice had in some ways the highest risk of failure since Dr. No. However, the film managed to bring in about $112 million, still a sizeable hit. It showed that Bond could outlive his imitators and rivals even after spymania had faded.

You Only Live Twice is often criticized for overplaying the action and gadgets, and having errors in logic. Having watched the film again a while ago, I find that those are not the things that bother me. Roald Dahl's screenplay and Lewis Gilbert's directing work together to create a definite fantasy look, feel, and story. How did SPECTRE build that volcano lair? Not important. I can just accept that it's there, thanks to Gilbert and Dahl's expert handling of fantasy. The more exotic, classy look and atmosphere seems closer to Ian Fleming than Hamilton's brassy comic-book style to me anyway.

The film boasts a wonderful cast for the most part. Donald Pleasance takes over from Anthony Dawson and Eric Pohlmann as the SPECTRE chief Ernst Stavro Blofeld. With his calm, menacing voice, scarred face, and wicked stare, Pleasance makes for the most memorable of the three faced Blofeld's. He's my favourite of the trio. Tetsuro Tamba is wonderfully entertaining as Tanaka, surpassing a few of the Felix Leiter's in terms of charisma and chemistry with Bond. Bernard Lee dons M's naval uniform for the only time in the series. Lois Maxwell and Desmond Llewelyn give their characters their usual energy and charisma. Of the three women in the movie, Karin Dor as Helga Brandt provides the best performance. Akiko Wakabayashi has a fairly good grasp of English (better than I would likely be pronouncing her name), and doesn't do too badly in the role of Aki. Mie Hama as Kissy seems a bit too similar to Aki, and her name is never mentioned in the movie. Teru Shimada's performance as the henchman Mr. Osato is suitably terrified of his employer. Sean Connery seems understandably tired in this film. Having been hounded by paparazzi and reporters for so long (he claims that someone followed him to the toilet for an interview), and with long shooting schedules, most would likely want to get away from it all and relax for a while. Connery's performance does not show much emotion or enthusiasm, but as Bond remains a superman in this film, there isn't much required of him.

The action is one area where the film really shines. The volcano lair battle is one of the most fantastic large-scale raids in any of the films. Dana Broccoli's concept of a magnet dropping down and carrying the enemy's car off is wonderfully absurd. The "Little Nellie" sequence; shot over Spain and costing cameraman Johnny Jordan his leg; has some wonderful stuntwork. As mentioned before, Gilbert has some wonderful class to his directing, and it's because of him that the fantasy is acceptable. Freddie Young's cinematography brings out the most of the beautiful Japanese locations. John Barry's score uses the instruments and colours of the country. The fantasy elements aren't a problem for me with this film; I actually like fantasy. My main problem is that Connery's tired performance sometimes seems to make the film drag, and the special effects make this film seem more like a low-budget Godzilla film than what the rest of the movie suggests.

You Only Live Twice isn't the revenge-driven story set at a castle and a "Garden of Death" of Ian Fleming's novel, and it isn't a serious spy thriller. But the exotic, classy look and rich atmosphere make this film far more Fleming-esque than it's given credit for.


"You Only Live Twice" by Q

In some respects Bond's 5th outing, You Only Live Twice, topped the previous, but not always in the way it counts. Sure, You Only Live Twice provided great locations, amazing sets a few good action pieces, but it lacked a solid plot and really good characters.

The backdrop of Japan was a great location and, for me, the highlight of the film. I was somewhat disheartened that 007 was not given a chance to explore the location to its full potential.

A highlight of this film will always be 007 meeting, for the first time, Ernst Stavro Blofeld. Despite what some say, Donald Pleasence played the super-villain as well as could be expected. He had the look and mannerisms down pat, and looking back, Pleasence gave a memorable performance.

Sadly, when writing the film the crew used very little of Fleming's You Only Live Twice and where as, in context, Fleming's plot would have made a very good drama and could have been very hard hitting. The film lacked something, but what it is hard to say.

Connery’s performance too was disappointing and held very little enthusiasm. He mentioned after that he never really liked the 007 character either. That probably provided the lack of excitement or interest in his performance throughout You Only Live Twice.

On the whole, You Only Live Twice, that marked the entrance of new Bond director Lewis Gilbert and the temporary departure of Sean Connery, was missing the guts and, dare I say it, “down-to-earth-ness” of the first four, wonderful Bond outings.


"You Only Live Twice" by Bond Bishop

"My name is Ernst Stavro Blofeld"

This movie will always be known as 'the Japanese movie'. Much of the story takes place in Japan and it is a fine location, but much of Ian Fleming's perfect novel has been lost in a very poor script. Roald Dahl's script is not the best even though the confrontation of Ernst Stavro Blofeld (Donald Pleasence) is perfect. This is a movie where Blofeld is very much haunting, especially when he drops his colleagues into the piranha pit. I am sure that if Richard Maibaum have been involved with the movie the script should have been better. The music by John Barry is one of his best and the Japanese-esque soundtrack is great. The title song is a very fine one by Nancy Sinatra. The actors also do well. Sean Connery is as always excellent as James Bond 007. Donald Pleasence is good as Blofeld but not as menacing as Telly Savalas in 'OHMSS'. Tetsuro Tamba is excellent as Tiger Tanaka and is one of the best characters. Mie Hama is also good as Kissy Suzuki (even though we don't hear her name). Akiko Wakabayashi is quite poor. Karin Dor is also good as femme fatale Helga Brandt. Charles Gray does just fine as Dikky Henderson and his character could have returned in 'DAF' instead of him being Blofeld. The action sequences are great in this movie. That is maybe why the script is so bad, Dahl maybe wanted more action and gadgets in this story than usual. The battle in the volcano is a masterpiece - it is so great, and so is the 'Little Nellie' battle. Much in the movie is actually good, but there is nearly no story in the movie and much from the novel is gone.