UK / USA, 1967
Review by Leo Goldsmith
Posted on 19 March 2005
Source MGM DVD
Features: The Genealogy of James Bond
You Only Live Twice was very nearly Sean Connery’s last James Bond film. Dissatisfied with the local media circus that followed the film crews around Japan, the series’ increasing reliance upon gadgetry and science fiction plot elements, and one of the worst toupees in what has become a long career of implausible hair-pieces, Connery was determined to end his definitive tenure in the role of 007. Fittingly enough, the film begins with Bond’s death and resurrection (an assassination staged to get SPECTRE off his back—it seems to fool them for about twenty minutes), an act that Connery will perform twice more in the (expanded) history of the series.
You Only Live Twice finds Bond chasing lost astronauts (foreshadowing Moonraker) across Japan. This is among the last of Bond’s fairly localized adventures (the vast majority of subsequent films have Bond racking up frequent flyer miles at an alarming rate), and as such the film is a charmingly naïve ethnography of urban and rural Japan that stops shy of being totally offensive. Sumo wrestlers, flashing neon, geisha girls, sake tips, and lots of gongs and kotos on the soundtrack provide the local color for 007’s orientalist encounter. Here, Bond is very like a imperial colonizer for Her Majesty’s government, even “going native” by marrying a girl from a small fishing village in one of the series’ most bizarre plot turns.
Most Bond-aficionados tend to categorize this as the low-point of the Connery years, and while the plot itself is pretty thin (Roald Dahl’s script is disappointingly conventional), You Only Live Twice is nonetheless as engrossing as any of the early films, perhaps because of its emphasis on the locale and its extravagant finale. Blofeld’s volcano hideout is one of the most impressive of Ken Adam’s sets for the franchise, and it is a pleasure to watch it be completely destroyed in the enormous and elaborate battle that ends the film. And hindsight offers a wonderful bonus to the film: Donald Pleasence’s performance as a pudgy, freakish Blofeld is clearly the ur-Dr. Evil. His oft-repeated enunciation of the word “annihilate” is hilarious.