You Only Live Twice (1967)

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B000FIKWXM_01_LZZZZZZZ.jpgAmong the icons on this blog's masthead is the one used by the producers of the James Bond 007 film series, circa 1989.  And since the Bond films have had generous heapings of fantasy and science fiction, I'd thought I'd review one of the most extreme installments of that series in regard to those genres:  1967's You Only Live Twice.

 

Ian Fleming's 1964 novel of the same name (hereafter referred to as YOLT) picked up where his previous year's On Her Majesty's Secret Service left off.  (At this point, you may want to skip this and the next paragraph.)  British Secret Service agent James Bond is still reeling from the brutal murder of his bride, Tracy, on their wedding day by archfoe Ernst Stavro Blofeld, head of the infamous criminal organization SPECTRE .  Despite screwing up two important missions, Bond's superior M nevertheless sends the agent on a diplomatic assignment to Japan to retrive a Russian decoding device.  While soaking up the sights with Japanese Intelligence head "Tiger" Tanaka, Bond discovers that Blofeld is alive and, under the alias "Dr. Shatterhand", is living in a castle over a volcano on an island near Japan. 

Suicidally-inclined Japanese have been using "Shatterhand's" deadly garden of poisonous plants on the island to do themselves in.  PR-wise, that's not good for the Japanese government, to say the least. Tanaka, unaware of Shatterhand's true identity, asks Bond as a favor to liquidate the now-insane Blofeld.  But things don't quite turn out so easily...

364413_1020_A.jpgProducers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman, director Lewis Gilbert, and screenwriter Roald Dahl (yep, him!)  made the unfortunate decision to film YOLT before On Her Majesty's Secret Service, throwing the extended "Bond vs. Blofeld" storyline set up by Fleming off-balance.  The film adaptation of YOLT, star Sean Connery's  fifth outing as 007, involves Bond's going to Japan to track down hijacked US and Russian spacecraft which has both those countries threatening nuclear retaliation against each other.  The space capsules are tracked down and discovered in an enormous hollowed-out volcano containing a rocket base overseen by SPECTRE's Blofeld (Donald Pleasence).  Along the way, Bond meets "Tiger" Tanaka (who in this film acts more like Hugh Hefner) and other characters from Fleming's novel, as well as various lovelies like female Japanese agents Aki (Akiko Wakabayashi) and Kissy (her name in the book; she's played by Mie Hama), and the lethal Miss Brandt (Karin Dor). 

 

 

The film's main plot -spaceships "kidnapped" by a criminal spy organization working out of a rocket base in a volcano trying to start World War III- is utterly ridiculous. (Fleming's idea of a castle built over an inactive volcano surrounded by poisonous plants was considered too far-out and unrealistic.) The film's characters are one dimensional (without the motavation to avenge his wife's murder, Bond is more of a cypher here, and that's not helped by Connery's obvious boredom with the role this time out) and/or cartoons (Austin Powers fans will find the inspiration for the Dr. Evil character in Pleasence's portrayal of Blofeld, who wasn't short, bald and scarred in Fleming's novels as he is here), and let's not go into the movie's now-dated treatment of women depicted solely as sex objects (though Wakabayashi's Aki character is also shown to be self-reliant, at least). 

 Also, the various sequences, action and otherwise, all seem strung together in a sloppy way.  For example, Bond flies around in a gadget-laden autogiro over the Japanese countryside and is about to return home when he's suddently attacked by four SPECTRE helicopters.  The sequence that ensues is exciting, if predictable (Bond naturally shoots down all four copters), but comes off as being tossed in just for the sake of staging a helicopter battle.  It doesn't add anything to the film, aside from spectacle.

SO, AFTER ALL THAT, WHY DO I LOVE THIS FILM? 

live_twice.jpgWith the invaluable contributions of production designer Ken Adam (whose imagnitatively outstanding and massive volcano set deserved an Oscar), cimematographer Freddie Young and music composer John Barry (whose score for this film is one of his all-time best; and how about that great theme song sung by Nancy Sinatra, too?), director Lewis Gilbert manages to create a truly epic action adventure/science fiction/fantasy film that easily dazzles the eye and ears (including some great one-liners by Connery and the cast), and which overcomes the lack of actual characterzation.  And who can forget that exciting climax with the Japanese Ninjas, led by Tanaka, sliding down on cables into Blofeld's lair, firing their weapons and throwing bombs all over the place?  One of the best cinematic action sequences ever committed to film, YOLT's climatic battle scenes still hold up, even after some forty-two years later! 

youonlylivetwice1_lg.jpgAnd though I mentioned his boredom with Bond earlier, there's no denying that Sean Connery, even when not quite on his game as he is here, is still one of the most commanding and charismatic actors in film.  Even with the various eye candy, Connery still manages to cement the film in reality with his presence.  Others may argue, but for me, he'll still be the 007! 

 

(You can reserve the DVD of You Only Live Twice from Greenwich Library here.  And be sure to check out our copies of Ian Fleming's novel as well.)

 

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This page contains a single entry by Ed published on August 6, 2009 10:53 AM.

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