James Bond took a year out. Who knows what he did on this 365 day break, but 1966 is a 007 mystery and like a drunken gap year, it’s probably best not to pry and find out what antics went down. Upon his MI6 re-entry, the audience is faced with a level up in the USSR and USA Cold War risk, first utilized back in From Russia with Love.
STARS – Sean Connery, Donald Pleasance, Mie Hama, Akiko Wakabayashi
DIRECTOR – Lewis Gilbert
RUN-TIME – 117 minutes
BEST LINE – There’s a couple of post-death quips from the man with the Walther PPK, but the stand out sentence goes to the big, bald, baddie Blofeld, who utters the film’s title after Bond remarks to the head of SPECTRE that he’s on his second life. The way Blofeld delivers “you only live twice, Mr. Bond,” is a deliciously sinister threat.
BEST GADGET – Q is not the guru behind a helpful cigarette that doubles as a little rocket firer, and that can drastically scorch any target, but the best gadget can be found as numerous mechanical pieces among many cases; to form the noticeable shape of Little Nellie. This teeny helicopter is equipped with machine guns, flame throwers and aerial mines and is an assembly of beauty and Bond fame.
EEEK MOMENT – A job with Ernst Stavro Blofeld is a perilous one and you’d better ensure you have life insurance for any hard-up family members to claim on your imminent death. This is the fate of Helga Brandt, aka Number 11, who walks over a bridge that is pedal-controlled by the boss, to drop her into a pool of hungry piranhas.
00 UH-OH – There’s a short section where James pretends to be a Japanese henchman to get into a chemical company building and how the driver doesn’t see through this half-disguise is beyond me! He even carries Bond, who’s acting injured, into the premises and somehow never notices the clearly rugged white face and bulkier build of the man. This is just a blip in terms of Asian fakery though, as later on, the story has Bond told to turn Japanese and we see him go through a false marriage and undergo prosthetic treatment to look as if he’s from the Far East. The racism over-spills from iffy to painful in one swift scene.
ICONIC MOMENT – You Only Live Twice is the movie where James and the audience stare upon the full face of serial cat stroker Blofeld for the first time, which is obviously a cool moment to finally see the scarred features of villainy but alongside this iconic visual, we have the volcano base and hub of the evil mastermind. This location that opens up and swallows rockets from opposing nations is one that can clearly be identified as a Bond venue and is an ingenuously silly hubbub of activity.
MINI REVIEW – A new director by the name of Lewis Gilbert takes the reins for this story which hones in quite a lot on the starry space race angle, a track he clearly enjoys as it’s one he follows even more in the later installment of Moonraker. Aside from a few hokey shots of space crafts that look like toys held up by strings in the inky black of night, this is an interestingly told story and Gilbert ensures the spy intrigue is constant.
It isn’t only the tomfoolery of James’ death in the opening that ups the curiosity, which in itself is a nice moment to have us think he’s been offed, but it’s the regular untrustworthy nature of people flitting in and out of Bond’s mission that gees up the tension factor, as to who the good folk might actually be. Faces come and go and their true motives aren’t always clear, which makes for an interesting pace to follow.
Thanks to its Japanese setting, there is some beautiful scenery to gaze at and it helps mark this film as a stunning change to the more Soviet or Caribbean visages from previous films. It isn’t only the look of the film that is different, the stakes seem higher thanks to it being the first true presentation of Mr. Blofeld. The finale becomes a ninja-ridden tour-de-force of open-faced morph suit wearing guys emerging from hiding places and descending into the volcano lair. This end sequence is loaded with action, stunt flips, gunfire and an energetic spectacle to finish the narrative in style.
In a way, this climatic battle looks like a final level in a video game with the first person trials of 007 overcoming obstacles, checkpoints and a mini boss to get past, in the hopes of preventing the last rocket eating up an American ship and beginning WW3. There might be a marriage sequence that could have benefited from major cuts, dated moments aplenty and a throwback to less than independent Bond girls but like the soothing vocals of Nancy Sinatra’s title song, there’s something warming about this easy watch and the grand design of SPECTRE’s scheme becomes a joyfully fun plot to watch unfold.