You Only Live Twice
U.K. / 1967
Directed by Lewis Gilbert
Starring
Sean Connery
Mie Hama
Tetsuro Tamba
Color / 117 Minutes / PG
Format: DVD (R1 - NTSC)
MGM Home Entertainment
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Stand-alone Blu-ray edition
(February 2013)

Review by
Brian Lindsey
 
6
    8   10 = Highest Rating  
You Only Live Twice has so many things going for it, chiefly Sean Connery returning for the fifth time as 007, that's it's easy to forgive its numerous faults. Without Connery, the exotic location of Japan, some fabulous sets and a memorable John Barry score, it would certainly dwell with Moonraker in the cellar of sub-par Bonds.
   A mysterious UFO is hijacking both American and Soviet spacecraft in orbit. Each nation blames the other for this dangerous disruption of the Space Race. As the two superpowers prepare for World War III, British intelligence dispatches James Bond to run down a lead in Japan a contact there claims to have potentially important information. 007's assassination is faked so that enemy agents, as his boss M puts it, will give him "more elbow room" once they think he's dead. Fired from the bow torpedo tube of one of Her Majesty's submarines, Bond enters Japan covertly, where he meets in Tokyo with MI6's contact, Mr. Henderson (Charles Gray, who'd play Blofeld in 1971's Diamonds Are Forever). In what many consider the series' most famous blooper*, Henderson offers Bond a vodka martini that's "stirred, not shaken." When asked if he got it right, an approving Bond replies, "Perfect."
    Henderson doesn't get to say much about the vanishing spacecraft before he's murdered in mid-sentence. 007 catches and kills the assassin, then disguises himself in the dead man's overcoat, hat, surgical mask, and two-toned shoes. Bond is a foot taller than the assassin but the man's clothing fits perfectly... even the footwear! (From this point on the movie will commit one silly faux pas after another, indicative of either sloppy or rushed filmmaking, or just an out-and-out "we don't give a damn" attitude. They're fun to watch for, however.) Feigning injury, the disguised Bond is driven by another thug to the high tech headquarters of the Osato Chemical Corporation, where we're treated to one of the most robust fight scenes of the 007 films even if it's flubbed at the end when the supposedly knocked-out (or dead) henchman heaves himself up onto a platform in mid-roll.
    Teamed with Tiger Tanaka (Tetsuro Tamba) head of the Japanese Secret Service and two of Tiger's gorgeous female agents, Aki (Akiko Wakabayashi) and Kissy (the luminous Mie Hama), Bond investigates Osato and discovers that the company is really a front for his old nemesis, SPECTRE. Blofeld's organization has been contracted by Red China to foment nuclear war between America and the USSR. (But won't the ChiComs along with everybody else get dosed with radiation too?) A long-dormant volcano on a remote Japanese island holds the secret to Blofeld's nefarious plans. Can Bond and Tiger's crack ninja commandos stop the countdown to Armageddon in time? Of course!
As mentioned, a lot of the movie's fun factor comes from spotting the numerous flubs and non sequiturs. Here are some more to look for:
After dealing with the sumo henchman in the Osato building, Bond who had no idea he'd find himself in such a situation suddenly produces bulky safecracking equipment from his pocket once he spots an office safe. The gizmo makes a noticeable bulge in Bond's jacket... which was clearly not there in previous scenes.
    Bond, only feet behind her, is unable to catch Aki when she runs away from him in high heels.
    Mr. Osato orders Bond (who is posing as a British businessman) to be killed moments after meeting him. So a carload of thugs tries to gun down 007 right in front of the company headquarters as he's leaving. Talk about bad publicity...
    Bond watches on a video screen mounted in Aki's sports car as the same carload of thugs is dropped by Tiger's helicopter which appears dangling a giant magnet within seconds of Aki's distress call into Tokyo Bay. So what camera is taking these pictures?
   
In a ridiculously lame "blue screen" shot, watch as Aki's car takes two hairpin turns (or rather the film in front of the car does) while her hands remain perfectly still on the steering wheel.
    Firing his PPK, Bond misses two henchmen who are crouching only five feet away from him.
    To escape a pack of goons at the Kobi docks, Bond makes two 30 foot dives off a building onto pallets stacked with tarp-covered boxes. Naturally, they cushion his fall. So how did he know the boxes contained marshmallows and not machine parts? Ouch!
   
During the wedding scene, Bond is pretending to be Japanese with the not-so-successful aid of a Mr. Spock wig. Watch as the 6-foot-2 Connery puts on the hunched posture of a scoliosis sufferer so as not to tower over everyone else in the shot.
    007 scouts out the perfectly camouflaged volcano crater in his miniature gyro-copter and finds nothing. Fortunately for the good guys, SPECTRE attack choppers pick that moment to engage Bond in an aerial dogfight. From this action, Bond and Tiger amazingly deduce that there must be something about the volcano requiring further investigation.
    Blofeld launches interceptor rockets from his secret volcano base at night. Even with a "radar blackout" device, wouldn't the villagers on the island not to mention anyone within a hundred miles be able to see them taking off? (Shades of
Moonraker!)
    Posing as a fisherman out pearl diving with Kissy, Bond stumbles upon the secret of Blofeld's lair. Without the slightest idea of what he'd find that day, it's revealed that 007 nevertheless had the foresight to bring along the very devices suction cups that enable him to stealthily penetrate the hidden base.
    There's even more silliness in
You Only Live Twice to report, like the infamous 'bouncing dead guys' in one model shot when the volcano base is exploding. (The entire audience burst into laughter when I saw this on a double bill with For Your Eyes Only in a San Jose, California theater in 1981.) But I don't wish to rag on the flick too much. It does have good stuff to offer one of John Barry's greatest Bond film scores (with its beautiful title song perhaps the series' best), the cheesy but fun helicopter battle and Ken Adams' fantastical sets chief among them. Even a bored-looking Connery makes a better James Bond than Roger Moore.
* Or is it? Is Bond just being polite in accepting the incorrectly mixed martini?

Again, MGM serves up a superb package of Bonus Features, including an audio commentary, trailers, radio spots, and "Making of" doc. The disc also includes a terrific documentary on the history of the Bond series' unique titles sequences. It focuses primarily on the innovative Maurice Binder, the graphic artist responsible for 14 of the 19 007 films' title sequences as well as the iconic traveling circles/gun barrel logo that's opened each Bond flick since Dr. No.
    Great extras notwithstanding, I can't give the DVD rating of '10'. The surprisingly worn video transfer could have used a brush-up; it would also be nice to hear John Barry's lush score in Dolby 5.1 stereo. (Alas, not here.) 6/06/01

UPDATE OOP for a couple of years, You Only Live Twice was reissued in December 2006 by MGM. This completely remastered 2-disc edition meticulously restored, given a new 5.1 Surround audio mix and featuring additional extras is part of The James Bond Ultimate Collection Vol. 4, which also contains four other 007 films. A Blu-ray release is inevitable.
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