James Bond Retrospective: You Only Live Twice

Just got the briefing from my editor. He’s grown tired of the typical Bond introductions and suggested I visit Tokyo and drink Sake in proper preparation for this expert analysis on Sean Connery’s first Bond swan song: You Only Live Twice. I needed to become a true ninja. I had gone through the first set of films – Dr. No (1962), From Russia With Love (1963), Goldfinger (1964), and I had just finished Thunderball (1965) and came off a little more unhinged than usual. After a couple of interventions, I knew something had to change.

So I took my first plane out and – who am I kidding? I didn’t go to Japan. I went to a liquor store and bought the most affordable yet tasteful sake a man with no prior sake experience could buy. At least it’s not gin, right?

On to the film:

You Only Live Twice (1967)

I find sake only drinkable in its true temperature: 98.4547 degrees Fahrenheit. 98.455 if you want to round up and be an absolutely uncultured neanderthal.

This film is a cocktail of mixed feelings. I think it’s got a nice energy to it, but Bond has progressed from cool character to cartoon to absolute unpleasantness. His sex count has skyrocketed, his stunts and gadgets are becoming more ridiculous, and the one-liners and general culture are starting to go well beyond boyhood fantasy and enter the misogynist’s Bible. I haven’t even mentioned the racism that lurks over this whole film.

The Plot

So Bond’s had a target on his head for so long that MI6 has faked his death for him. Up in space, an American spacecraft is hijacked and every country is looking for someone to blame. The Brits get the feeling the Japanese have something to do with it and send Bond back into the field – his first time in Japan.

Bond meets a British contact who arranges a meeting with the top Japanese secret agent (named Tiger) and then the contact is murdered. Bond is starting to suspect SPECTRE is the cause of hijacking after breaking into a Mr. Osato’s office. Bond meets Tiger and they think SPECTRE is behind it all, with Mr. Osato’s private company being in cahoots. Bond meets Osato officially and dodges an attempted murder from Osato’s secretary afterwards.

Bond uses an autogyro (think helicopter, but sadder) to discover SPECTRE’s base inside a volcano on a remote island. Tiger comes up with a strategy: have Bond infiltrate the island by blending in perfectly as a faithful Japanese husband and utilizing the masterful arts of the modern ninja. Yes, really.

He does and eventually he sneaks into the base. SPECTRE leader Blofeld captures and confronts Bond. Blofeld’s plan is actually just a job. The Chinese are going to pay him to have Russia and America start a war with each other. The Japanese army of ninjas break into the volcano and all hell breaks loose. Blofeld escapes after murdering Osato for failure, Bond is able to hit the rocket self-destruct button to prevent the first act of war between Russia and America, and everybody escapes out of the volcano alive and waiting for rescue.

Moneypenny, this submarine seems to have plenty of light. That lamp doesn’t look like it does anything.

A Closer Look

So right off the bat I’m going to say this is where reviews can get ugly. Looking back at the previous films, this is clearly the worst one of the bunch, but I actually enjoy it more than Thunderball (1965). Thunderball toes the line between fun enough to watch and boring way too often for my tastes. This is the first time I put my big boy reviewer pants on and actually looked at the director names on these movies. Terence Young directed everything so far except Goldfinger and this makes complete sense. You can tell by Thunderball he’s lost all energy for the series and he was given the task to make a more stupid film than Goldfinger (1964).

Lewis Gilbert, meanwhile, has a very distinct eye. Certain camera angles, deliveries, and stuntwork is exceptional here. I think Young is a little flavorless, or at least his flavor doesn’t package the ridiculous aspects of Bond properly. To contrast, Young’s last villain, Largo, has an eyepatch and feeds people to sharks and there is not a single drop of charisma or terror to be found. Pleasance’s Blofeld, alternatively, is the stuff of legend. The way he talks to Bond is a direct line of sight to the camera, like Hannibal Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs (1991). His deformity doesn’t award him sympathy; instead, it grants you access to seeing the cold distant side of him Pleasance’s normal face does not offer. The camera angles zoom in; they shake, they tilt. This sort of stuff might not be advanced for film at this time, but it’s definitely advanced for Bond.

To further talk about Blofeld, this is the film where he’s actually a thing. Before, we had a very good voice over from Eric Pohlmann, but it’s sort of an Inspector Gadget-Klaw scenario. He was disembodied. A big bad puppet master. Here, he seems less puppet master and more psychopath with a lot of money. Remember that in like twenty reviews.

Bond’s more of a dog guy. No, no, he’s cool with cats; cats just aren’t cool with him. I guess if he just spent more time with them, but how is that practical for a guy that works full time? A dog will care about you from the moment you –  okay these are too long now.

What’s Good?

I talked about the directing a little bit and I talked about Blofeld already. I again think this is pretty engaging. This is the first two hour and something Bond film I saw where I didn’t have to force myself to care at one point so that’s pretty good.

The theme song has Nancy Sinatra on vocals and she delivers a good performance. That’s pretty much it.

What’s Bad?

Connery’s worst performance so far here. This kind of film shows the shallowness of his acting. I don’t know how much he’s phoning it in, I don’t know how much is him trying. Certain scenes he would’ve pulled off before (like the Moneypenny interaction) come off as half baked.

To talk about the sexism and racism in the film, there’s a lot to say and ten paragraphs about it won’t cover all of it. This might not be his most misogynist outing, but it’s definitely his most racist. Every moment of this film features an Asian joke. There’s little hard stereotypes here, nothing Mickey Rooney tier, but particularly when Bond and Tiger talk about women in Japan and becoming a ninja we really see a problem that’s not comfortable in any setting.  The surgery of adding thicker eyebrows and rubber for the eyes is insane. The “men come first, women come second” mentality leaves a lot to be desired. This is the first Bond movie where Bond’s core and complex emotional relationship of the film has the woman killed off and not be the one Bond kisses at the end. Aki is the most salvageable of female characters here and when they kill her any and all sympathy goes out the door.

Yesh, I’ve completely immershed myshelf in the role of a humble Japanese farmar. No one can pawshibly know.

I mean, I get it, movie. Ninjas and volcano lairs are cool. This is the best finale so far. Yet, you didn’t have to make Bond one of them. That’s mixing your styles all wrong. A ninja does not want to be Bond and Bond just doesn’t have it in him to be a ninja. When you try to force it like this you insult everybody; Japanese culture especially, because everybody knows after this movie you’re just going to go somewhere else and be just as careless.

And also Bond’s… “sleeping habits” have gotten stupid now. Like, actually dangerous for him and his mission. When Bond slept with somebody, it was usually in specific relation to the mission, like Pussy Galore or a bit of fun, but starting with the first SPECTRE lady in Thunderball and the SPECTRE lady here it really doesn’t work in either realm. Neither really served any purpose. Like, he gets out of his death trap by seducing the girl? It’s all out of place and unrealistic. Bond doesn’t need to sleep with EVERY woman, especially the evil ones. The franchise hasn’t learned this one yet. It will.

To nitpick about the plot here REALLY quick: so you fake Bond’s death so SPECTRE won’t hunt for him, right? You put his name and face on the front of every major British newspaper. So then you send him on a what is quite possibly a SPECTRE related mission and he goes undercover? Osato not noticing what Bond actually looked like initially is one thing, but he even ruins any sort of suspension when he’s like “but the papers said he was dead!” So he for sure read the newspaper. I’m done. Where’s my sake?

Oh, and the gyrocopter is dumb. So dumb. Dumber than the jetpack. That looked funny.

Looking Forward

After this film, Sean says his first goodbye to the franchise. Next up is Lazenby’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969). This was needed and inevitable in a lot of ways. Ultimately, a rotation of Bond actors is a sign of new direction and tone. There’s an entirely different approach to everything when you cast a different Bond.

After that, Sean comes back for Diamonds Are Forever (1971), then he’s replaced by Roger Moore. I’ve seen the Moore films the least, so I’ll save all commentary on them for the films. Sean also comes back one more time for a film called Never Say Never Again (1983). It’s not an official Bond film in the sacred canon (funniest joke all night) and I’m really not interested in talking about it.

What I Drank

So here’s the important part of the review. I had one experience with sake in college. I bought clearance sake-already opened- at a grocery store. It was bad, I threw it up.

But there’s no other drink to drink for this bad boy, so I had to research this. Basically it’s a lot like beer and wine and not like liquor, so there’s a huge amount of variation. Go with what sounds good on the back of the bottle and realize this is going to be an acquired taste. The sacred temperature Bond talks about isn’t even accepted anymore, though it is if you drink it hot. Most drink their sake cold now and they should be only chilled.

I personally picked up a TYKU Gingo sake. I still didn’t like it, but it’s way easier to appreciate now. I sipped it.

Also, drink the sake as soon as you open the bottle. There’s no storing that for later.

11 thoughts on “James Bond Retrospective: You Only Live Twice

  1. I would like to mention that 60s Tokyo is so beautifully captured in this film, along with the wonderful Toyota Roadster. Shame about the racism and sexism though.

  2. These films are period pieces and at their peak, they were great fun and escapist entertainment.

    Comparing these films to today’s politically correct bullshit is nonsense. The reviewer must be a child who has not the slightest clue regarding films of that era.

    These films are classics as are many films of the past. To destroy their value compared to the crap you youngsters think are classic films being made today is insane.

    Pick apart Cool Hand Luke and you will get the same response. Classic period piece with an outstanding cast and crew. You would not like that film either as it reflects poorly on chain gangs of that time.

    Your reviews of the Bond films are juvenile and revisionist history.

  3. I’ve come to this post long after it’s original publication. But I decided to watch Dr. No and You only live twice again. I’m also re-reading. There is definite nostalgia thinking back to when I was growing up. Never thought about pc ideas. Reading the books, irritated that the books weren’t adhered to in descriptions while producing film. It’s true that some movies simply don’t adapt well to the power of literature and the imagination (undoubtedly an infuriating reality for PC people who want to sanitize literature.)

    At 55, I’ve been exposed to enough time, experience raising kids, etc to wince at some of the things. Corny humor never suited my tastes and make my eyes roll but they’re catchy. The names women get are also eyecrillers but clearly memorable.

    Can’t help understanding the realities of smoking and drinking like a fish or using a Walter .380 as a great Mankiller. (I know assassins often use small caliber but for bond it seems I’ll suited). Getting older inevitable means being jaded about technical and medical things. With 3 daughters, I wince at the statement in You only live twice “Here, women come second”

    But that’s all age and experience. We don’t go back to rewrite all fairytales, adventures, epics, war stories and so forth tosuit modern tastes. We shouldn’t. Neither should we sanitize or squeeze out older films for modern audiences. The consumer decides. The old lord of the rings animation was fantastic at a young age. The new even better. The rings of power…not so much. They all stray from the sources. But if critics want to go back and sanitize let them go write their own. Chances are, they’ll be rejected. That’s what drives pc crazy and infuriates them. The next step is slowly purging the old. There is a certain creative elitism and bankruptcy with pc that refuses to be acknowledged.

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