After Thunderball and its mammoth success. 007 took a two year hiatus the first of many multi year gaps between the films. You Only Live Twice would introduce a third director to the series Lewis Gilbert who like Guy Hamilton with Goldfinger will pop up directing future Bond films. You Only Live Twice continues to get even bigger from the prior Bond outings concluding with one of the best action scenes in the series. The main thing You Only Live Twice is remembered for is that it marked the final appearance of Sean Connery as James Bond. Connery had grown tired of the little character growth of the character and was tired of playing an action hero. Connery also experience displeasure to the constant attention he garnered in Japan during the filming of the film.
The Plot: The film begins with a US space shuttle being hijacked by a unidentyfied space shuttle. We then cut to Bond who is in bed with a chinese women who after leaving the bed presses a button that hides the bed in a wall as several men with machine guns come in and shoot the wall with the bed. The men flee and two cops come to investigate and confirm that James Bond is dead. As I mentioned in the Thunderball reivew this continues a theme in the Connery, Bond films with the idea of teasing the death of Bond in the opening teaser prior to the opening titles.
After the opening titles we then see a navy funeral for Bond who holds the rank of commander. This was the first time that we see any real connection to Bond and his past in the Royal Navy. Bonds body is then dropped into the ocean and is taken away by two men to an Mi6 base. Bond is not really dead but rather faked his death to get his enemies off of his track. M then informs Bond of the US shuttle disappearance and then tells him that the Russians plan to launch another shuttle. Bond is sent to Tokyo to work with their secret service to investigate.
Upon arrival Bond meets his contact Aki at a Sumo Match. Bond uses the code phrase given to him by Mi6 to confirm contact. Aki then takes Bond to his Mi6 contact Dikko Henderson portayed by Charles Gray. Gray claims to have information about the space craft that hijacked the US Shuttle. Before Henderson can tell any of this to Bond he is killed by knife thrown from outside. Bond goes after the assasin who he strangles and then takes his outfit. Bond is taken to Osaka Corp by the driver of the assiasian. Upon entering the office Bond and the Driver who is played by wrestler Peter Maivia who is the grandfather of The Rock. The two have a fight sequence which is quite good though not as good as the opening fight scene from Thunderball. Bond knocks out the driver with a statue and discovers a safe. Bond uses a safe cracking device to open the safe. We get a little suspense sequence with Bond trying to open the safe while two guards approach the office. Bond opens the safe but sets off an alarm and takes somethings out of the safe and makes his escape. Aki conveniently shows up as the guards are firing at Bond.
Upon arriving at a Subway station Aki runs off from Bond who proceeds to chase her. While chasing her Bond falls through a trap door that opens. Bond finds himself in Tiger Tanakas office. Tanaks is the head of the SIS or Japanese Secret Service. Tanaka is the Felix Leiter of this movie a fellow spy who helps Bond throughout the mission. Tanaka is portaryed by Tetsuro Tamba. Bond has Tanaka analize the documents found in Osatos safe. While analizying the documents a photo of cargo ship Ning Po with a microdot saying the photographer of the photo was killed.
The next day Bond heads back to Osato Corp for a meeting with Osato. Bond impersonates a buyer looking to do business with Osato. After the meeting Osato orders his secutary and SPECTRE assasin Helga Brandt played by Karin Dor to have Bond killed. After leaving the meeting Bond is tailed by the would be assasins but with the aid of Tanaka they are disposed of by a helicopter with a magnet.
Bond and Aki travel to Kobe to investigate the Ning Po. Upong arrival they are attacked by workers. Aki makes a run for it as Bond fights off the men. Bond is captured and taken prisoner by Brandt. it is here when in recent viewings just how much Connery has aged since starting the franchise in 1962. Bond uses his charm to get his way out of the situation as it appears he and Brandt will flee to Tokyo. While in a plane Brandt traps Bond while she makes an escape. Bond who is left to die gets out of his trap and lands the plane and gets out just before it explodes. Once again it would appear that Bond is out of the way.
Bond and Tanaka discover SPECTRE is behind the disappearance of the US Shuttle. Bond goes to investigate the area the Ning Po traveled in a auto gyro supplied by Q who comes to Japan to deliver this to Bond. Bond flies around the area but is attacked by Kamikaze pilots who Bond has not trouble disposing of. Brandt is killed by SPECTER leader #1 who was hear in From Russia With Love and Thunderball but not seen. Bond is taken to Tanakas Ninja Training school for training. Bond undergoes a procure to appear Japanese to throw off the enemy. This whole Bond looking Japanese looks really dumb and takes a lot out of the movie. Bond has an attempt on his life at night but it fails and ultimately Aki is killed in place of Bond. Following her death Bond has a staged marriage to one of Tanakas agents Kissy Suzuki.
After learning some info about a cave in the area Bond and Suzuki head off to investigate a cave and volcano. Bond learns that the mouth of the Volcano has been disguised as the head of SPECTRE during this operation. Bond orders Suzuki to inform Tanaka and his men while Bond sneaks into investigate. Bond finds and frees the astronauts from the US and Russian shuttles stolen. Bond then takes a shuttle suit and tries to gain access to SPECTRE’s ship. Bond is spotted for taking his air conditioner onto the ship and called into the control room. Bond then comes face to face with SPECTRE leader Ernst Stavro Blofeld portrayed by Donald Pleasence who has become the classic look for the Blofeld character and famously parodied in the Austin Powers films with the Dr Evil character.
The SPECTRE shuttle is lauched as Bond is held captive in the control room. Tanaka and his men attempt to enter through the hatch but are spotted by Blofelds men. Bond uses a rocker launching cigarette to create a diversion as gets the hatch open. Blofeld escorts Bond to a secluded place and attempts to kill him as Tanaka saves Bonds life with a ninja star to Blofeld’s hand as he is about to fire at Bond. Bond begins his journey back to the control room to shut down the shuttle. Bond engages in a fight with Blofelds henchman Hans who is the classic bond henchman who feels little pain and outdoes Bond physically. Bond gets Hans into Blofelds piranha pool and makes his way to the control room. Bond activates the shuttles self destruct feature as the shuttle explodes before coming into contact with the US Shuttle.
Blofeld activates the bases Self Destruct procedure as Bond, Tanaka, Kissy and all of Tanaks men make their way out of the base. The reamining heroes are rescued by submarine as the film ends.
Thoughts: You Only Live Twice is an entetaining movie. The autogyro scene and conclusion at the Volcano Base are two great Bond action scenes. Speaking of the Volcano set it is one of the best sets in the series and maybe the crowning achivment of longtime Bond production designer Ken Adam. As for Connery I think this is one of his weaker Bond perfomances. It is clear he is bored with the role and doesn’t give the same level of enthusiasm that he did in his earlier outings. As I outlined in the plot it is really evident here that Connery was really starting to show signs of aging here. There are times in the film were he looks fine just like he did in Thunderball and then there are times he just looks really old. Obviously you can’t stop the aging process and it will be something that will be touch upon during the later stages of the Roger Moore era in the mid 80s. But when I was a kid I never noticed it until he cane back for Diamonds are forever. Now when I watch this one I just can’t help but think how much he aged during this 5 year gap. The one downside to the film is when they try turn Connery Japanese. I know its to try keep him hidden and what not but it just looks really dumb. Overall I enjoy You Only Live Twice. To me the first 5 Connery films is the best stretch in the series and all are quality flicks. Twice is the weakest of these films but they are all very close together.
Sean Connery as James Bond
Akiko Wakabayashi as Aki
Mie Hama as Kissy Suzuki
Donald Pleasance as Ernst Stavro Blofeld
Tesuro Tamba as Tiger Tanaka
Teru Shimada as Mr Osato
Karin Dor as Helga Brandt
Bearnard Lee as M
Lois Maxwell as Miss Moneypenny
Desmond Llywellyn as Q
Directed by Lewis Gilbert
Produced by Albert R Broccoli and Harry Saltzman