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Reviews > From A to Bond: You Only Live Twice
tederick | 8 Nov 2012 | 1,023 Views | 2 Likes | 0 Dislikes
From A to Bond: You Only Live Twice
Which one is this? I think I’m turning Japanese.
Who’s who in this one? Connery (Bond); Lee (M); Llewelyn (Q); Maxwell (Moneypenny).
Where did you first encounter this one? On DVD, in 2000 or 2001.
Who’s the bad guy, and what does he want? Blofeld reveals himself at last! In his first appearance as more than a cat and a pair of hands, he’s played by Donald Pleasence. He is snatching American and Soviet space capsules from orbit, in an attempt to start World War III.
Who are the Bond girls? Akiko Wakabayashi as Aki, who only lives once; Karin Dor as Helga Brandt, who tries to kill Bond twice; and Mie Hama as Kissy, who puts Bond to bed at last.
Opening number? Nancy Sinatra’s dreamy title ballad, set against a montage of Japanese parasols and exploding lava.
What’s memorable about this one? Bond faking his death to turn into a Japanese man. The helicopter in a briefcase. Ninjas. The volcano lair. Written by Roald Dahl.
What did you rate it out of ten, from memory? 9. A big, dumb, entertaining grand finale(ish) for the Connery years.
What do you rate it now, having seen it again? I am completely keeping this at 9.
We come at last to the end of all things. I've been up and down the mountain with Commander Bond in the last month, and while I can't quite say I'm as enthralled with him as I was a few weeks ago, neither can I claim to be sick of him. My beard is thick and tough, and my eyes have that glassed-over look of having stared too long into the sun. Outside, Hurricane Sandy has come and gone, and I've brewed a fresh pot of Lady Grey tea - we've long since run out of Earl Grey - and am taking my Bond de grâce with a light lunch of fine cheeses and a Vesper martini. My toy Aston Martin is here too. All things end.
Appropriately, I am concluding with what Connery intended to be his last Bond picture, 1967's You Only Live Twice - though he would, of course, live once or twice more in the secret agent's skin before all was said and done. I do wonder if Connery expected the Bond franchise to fold with him, upon announcing his departure? Such a thing would not have been unreasonable. James and Sean were one, in the minds of all and sundry, for a very long time, and five films is a healthy score for any franchise. And You Only Live Twice is such a grand finale: Bond dies! Bond lives again! Blofeld is revealed!
You Only Live Twice is a mad, mad, mad, mad, mad Bond. It’s dumber than most of the films in the series, but remains breezily confident and comfortably watchable. Undeniably, I’m a geek for this sort of thing – the time period and locale, particularly. Seeing Bond run around Nikkatsu-era Japan is just too much fun for me to be bothered overmuch by the film’s silliness. Every time I think I should reasonably knock the film down to an 8 or even a 7, something even more whackadoo awesome shows up: the helicopter-in-a-box, or the ninja training school, or the rocket guns. I don't go in for dumb Bond very often, but You Only Live Twice gets the mixture perfectly right. It’s a film of such delirious whimsy. I'm sorry, but if you don't enjoy the sight of Little Nellie soaring over the Japanese coastline with Bond at the wheel, taking on a squadron of black helicopters, there’s no joy in you! It's impossible for You Only Live Twice to fail to put a big, stupid grin on my face. It’s the most intensely euphoric entry in the franchise, for whatever Austin Powers gags it later directly invoked.
You Only Live Twice is not for modern, evolved minds. It is, first of all, a ludicrous Western fantasy of the mysteries of “the Orient,” as Commander Bond would call it; it confers the status of “other” open the entirety of Eastern civilization and sends Bond to Japan with the same tactility as if it were sending him to Mars. It gives us Tiger Tanaka, Bond’s man in Japan, who exists solely to utter all of the film’s great lines – up to and including “I have much, much better [than commandos] – NINJAS.” Tiger executes one of the film’s great visual gags, when a car full of goons try to execute Bond, and Tiger picks up their sedan with a tow-magnet dangling beneath a helicopter, and drops them in the middle of the bay – real-for-real, of course. But You Only Live Twice will most be remembered for sending James Bond undercover by turning him Japanese – shaving his chest, giving him a bowl haircut, and coming up with a result that looks not unlike the Mongolian Warlord look made popular by the Klingons of the original Star Trek series. Patently ludicrous!
In its Eastern milieu, You Only Live Twice also manages to be the most outright, nearly insanely, sexist entry in the Bond franchise. The film is completely obsessed with womens’ looks and inferiority, so much so that it trips over itself repeatedly. Tanaka takes Bond into his home and offers him “all of his possessions,” which results in Bond and Tiger in kimonos, swarmed by servant girls in their undies, all of whom are theoretically at the disposal of Bond’s sexual whims. “Rule number one, never do anything yourself if you can get someone else to do it for you,” Tiger instructs. “Rule number two: men come first, women come second.” (If at all.) And yet, I must shame-facedly admit that I enjoy the Bond girls, Aki and Kissy (in spite of the latter’s name), more than most – even while acknowledging that poor Kissy must spend time in the third act of the picture sleuthing around the lip of a volcano with Bond, while dressed in nothing but her underwear! Well, when in Tokyo, I guess. What am I complaining about? As ripe male fantasy, You Only Live Twice is a guilty pleasure par excellence.
And what a ripe male fantasy it is. Has there ever been a bigger set than Blofeld’s volcano lair? I’m sure there has, but I can’t imagine it; the secret base is Ken Adam’s masterpiece, certainly – which, given Adam’s wide-ranging contribution to the look and feel of the Bond pictures (stretching from Dr. No to Moonraker) can’t be undervalued. Blofeld’s base has a monorail, and a rocket launch pad, and a hangar bay door disguised as a lake, and a piranha pond for eliminating enemies, which sort of makes it the perfect action figure playset, and my inner 10-year-old boy positively thrums at the sight of it. The volcano base is the perfect setting for You Only Live Twice’s “all hell breaks loose” finale, as Bond orchestrates a massive confrontation between Blofeld’s goons, the captured American and Soviet astronauts, and Tiger’s band of ninjas.
Having begun in space, You Only Live Twice’s finale revolves around nothing more or less than the salvation of the entire human race; the fetishistic Space Race-era images of American and Soviet rockets darting hither and yon are nothing next to the grand slice of cheese whereby Blofeld is revealed, played (here) by Donald Pleasence, and nursing a big ugly facial scar that will have conveniently disappeared by the time he next pops up. Blofeld knows all the tricks, and gets away clean; he knows his enemy well enough to identify him by his Walther PPK, but not well enough to prevent Bond access to his cartridge of explosive cigarettes. The eternal duel between naughty hero and aesthete villain continues on, perhaps forever – but I’m done. Tomorrow’s Skyfall, and after that, I’ll never have to write another From A to Bond piece again.
From A to Bond counts down the Bond movies, in alphabetical order, every day of the week leading up to the release of Skyfall. If you live in Toronto, You Only Live Twice is playing at the TIFF Bell Lightbox on January 2. If not, the entire series is available on blu-ray.