“You Only Live Twice” is another fun, exciting James Bond adventure even if it’s the first of the initial five 007 outings that doesn’t live up to series’ expectations.
The film kicks off with a very well done opening sequence where a U.S. space capsule is stolen, increasing tension between the Russians and U.S., who threaten all-out war if their space faring expeditions continue to be hijacked.
After Nancy Sinatra’s beautiful opening song, M (Bernard Lee) sends James Bond (Sean Connery, “Goldfinger”) off to Japan where MI6 believe he’ll find clues to the real danger behind the missing capsule. Teaming with his Japanese counterpart, “Tiger” Tanaka (Tetsurô Tanba), soon uncovers the truth behind the stolen space capsule, but he’s in a race against time if he’s to prevent war between the two superpowers.
Femme fatale Helga Brandt (Karin Dor) doesn’t make a significant impression and sidekicks Aki (Akiko Wakabayashi) and Kissy (Mie Hama) are interchangeable.
The voice dubbing is a bit jarring in this outing and resembles one of those Kung-Fu Theatre films for how suspect the dubbed in voice matches the actor’s performance.
Now in his fifth time in the role, Connery had grown bored with Bond and his performance doesn’t have the same spark as previous outings. Even still, it’s Connery playing Bond so it’s hardly terrible.
This marks the first time we fully see Ernst Stavro Blofeld (Donald Pleasance), the evil mastermind behind SPECTRE, the organization that has hounded Bond since “Dr. No.” Pleasance is delightfully evil and he makes the full reveal of Blofeld worth the wait.
Director Lewis Gilbert gets the Bond formula down easily enough, but has some pacing issues, specifically fight scenes that would benefit from tighter editing. For a film made in 1967, the effects are impressive even if the technology wasn’t quite at the level he needs to make them as exceptional as he envisioned.
For its first half, “YOLT” rolls along as smoothly as the previous films in the series, but it stumbles in the second half thanks to a number of ill-advised and confusing plot decisions.
The biggest is easily the convoluted plan to have Bond team with a ninja clan to infiltrate Blofeld’s headquarters. Bond + ninjas is a money combination, but screenwriter Roald Dahl mucks up that fun by having Bond “become Japanese” (getting false eyebrows and a hairpiece), undergo ninja training (in two short days) and staging a marriage to allow him entry into the fishing village near the hideout.
Despite the minor issues, there’s still a lot to like here. Setting the film in Japan allowed for some breathtaking visuals and provides a welcome culture shift for Bond, who for the only time in the series, never dries a car. Gilbert brings some fun perspectives to the action, including a spectacular rooftop fight scene. Jon Barry’s masterful score is an easy highlight as are the excellent performances from Pleasance and Tanba.
Rating: 7.5 out of 10