Director: Lewis Gilbert
Starring: Sean Connery, Akiko Wakabayashi, Mie Hama, Tetsuro Tamba
James Bond travels to Japan to foil a SPECTRE plot to instigate World War III by capturing US and Soviet spaceships.
Over the first four installments, the James Bond series steadily improved. Thunderball, the fourth film, stood out as a remarkable filming achievement for its time. It’s only fair to say that expectations were high when I sat down to watch You Only Live Twice, the fifth Bond movie. Unfortunately, the series takes a turn for the worse here. You Only Live Twice drops the sushi in too many areas.
The plot starts out fine, with a misadventure in space: A US spaceship is captured by an unknown entity. The US suspects the Soviet Union, but Britain has evidence that leads them to believe that the intercepting spaceship originated from Japan. Bond is sent to investigate. The Japanese backdrop presents an interesting twist on a James Bond story, but quickly problems with the movie arise.
The plot in You Only Live Twice doesn’t stumbles for the first hour and a half. There are too many meaningless scenes. The pace drags. The middle portion of the movie deserves particular mention for its premise-shattering stupidity. James Bond and Tiger Tanaka, the chief of the Japanese spy service, have narrowed the enemy’s area of activity to one island and it’s accompanying volcano. In order to infiltrate the island, Tanaka decides to disguise Bond as a Japanese person, have him marry a Japanese woman, and then train him as one of Tanaka’s ninjas—and do all this despite being pressed for time by an upcoming American space launch. Huh? This is so Stupid that I capitalize the “s”. Bond’s disguise as a Japanese person is particularly hilarious: he ends up looking like some kind of freakish cross between Huck Finn and Pinocchio, but in no way looks like a Japanese person. And the marriage to increase believability? Making this sequence even dumber is the fact that the enemy twice tries to kill Bond while he trains as a ninja in Tanaka’s secret base. Um, do you think they might be on to the plan there, James? The Japanese disguise and infiltration element of the film is actually so incredibly dumb that I officially nominate it as a candidate for Stupidest Scene in Action Movie History.
Other things also pull the movie down. The Japanese acting lacks charisma. Tetsuro Tamba, Mie Hama, and Akiko Wakabayashi never hit stride. Their roles end up two-dimensional, stereotypical, and forgettable. Even Connery, perhaps because of the lack of support, seems flat in this film. The villains, too, are consistently boring and often invisible, the sole exception being Donald Pleasence as Ernst Blofeld, head of SPECTRE. His role, however, is minor.
The story stutters and jumps in places as well. In one spot, James is piloting a mini-helicopter after a battle, and is ordered to stay in the area because an American space launch is imminent. The ship launches, and the next we see of Bond, he is being escorted to a castle in a new, larger helicopter. Huh? What happened to the little one? Did he see anything? What? In another spot, which I don’t want to ruin for you, there is a mind-boggling capture, threat of torture, seduction, escape, attempted murder in a plane sequence that is so disconnected it wreaks of Attention Deficit Disorder.
The script, too, never rises to the occasion. Gone are the corny yet trademark Bond one liners. Akiko Wakabayashi gets a few such lines, and Bond may have one or two, but they lack the usual impact. One liners aside, the script feels barren in You Only Live Twice. Character development is never a critical element of an action movie, but the script in this movie is so lacking that we never even get to know any of the characters.
All is not lost, however. You Only Live Twice manages to deliver in some areas. The action—in particular the final, long sequence in the crater base—does a good job of keeping your attention. Like Thunderball, this movie has fully moved into the action movie category. There are chases, car chases, dogfights, and a grand, final confrontation. Many of these reflect the times and stand out as dated pieces, but they are well shot, decently paced, and entertaining.
The final forty minutes of the film actually save the film in many ways. The crater base is particularly impressive for a 1967 movie, and the long battle cranks up the pace and entertainment value of the film significantly. There are some oddities here, nevertheless, one of which is the enemy’s apparent stupidity in building an “impregnable” control room with a flimsy, wooden emergency door. But by the time you get to this point, you’re likely to be too busy laughing at James Bond’s Japanese hairdo to notice these minor problems. You might even miss the premise-busting volcanic eruption.
As for our babes and hunks rating, I’m sorry to say that You Only Live Twice falls flat. Akiko Wakabayashi is distinctly average and Mie Hama is pretty at best, but both of them lack presence, energy, and sex appeal. From the hunk side, Bond spends much of the movie disguised as a Japanese person; this drags down the hunk score as well.
In conclusion, You Only Live Twice is the weakest of the first five Bond films. The story limps. The pace doesn’t crank into gear until the ending. The acting and script sit well below the other Bond films. There are too many elements that stretch the premise of a even a Bond film. The praiseworthy action elements make a valiant effort to save the film, but the weaknesses are simply too much to overcome.
The budget for Dr. No, the first James Bond film, was $1 million. In You Only Live Twice, that was the budget for the crater base set alone.
Consistent Premise: 31
Body Count: 80
Time to First Dead Body: 3 minutes, 11 seconds
Special Effects: 54
Overall: 50 (Disappointing)