50 Years of Bond: ‘You Only Live Twice’ Review

Director: Lewis Gilbert

Cast: Sean Connery, Donald Pleasence, Akiko Wakabayashi, Mie Hamma, Tetsuri Tamba, Bernard Lee, Desmond Llewelyn, Lois Maxwell

Plot: After faking his own death in order to prevent attempts on his life by SPECTRE, Bond is dispatched to Japan to investigate missing rocket ships. When he uncovers SPECTRE is behind the hijackings he must finally come face to face with the organisations leader: Ernst Stavro Blofed.

Review: The fifth – and what was almost the last – of Sean Connery’s outings as the gentlemen spy saw the series begin moving at a different pace, one that it would keep up for the next few decades. While the previous entries had been over the top they still had a grounding in reality. You Only Life Twice was the first of a more fantastical adventure, something that is no doubt helped along by Roald Dahl taking on script duties.

Willa Wonka takes things to a new level.

Things begin in the most ludicrous manner with a spaceship being swallowed mid flight by another, larger rocket that then flies it back to Earth. This opening sets the scene for a somewhat more silly film that what Bond has featured in to this point. Throughout the movie Bond takes to the skies in a tiny yet heavily equipped gyro-copter, infiltrating an enemy base using knee-pad suction cups and facing down his enemy by attacking his volcano layer alongside a squad of ninjas. Blofed, in his first on-screen part, is equally preposterous. From his disfiguring scar to his glee at seeing a battle rage outside his headquarters he’s downright cartoonish.

You know what? I’m not even going to write it. Because you’re already thinking it in your head.

The first half of the movie is actually a bit more subdued. Bond’s faked assassination attempt at the beginning is intriguing and gives an amusing insight into the workings of the secret service. Upon his first arrival in Japan Bond is mostly involved in the investigation of suspicious businesses and catching up with contacts, each encounter bringing him closer to Blofed. These early scenes are just as engaging as the big-budget finale, albeit for different reasons. M’s Japanese counterpart, Tiger Tanaka, is a great foil for Bond and his efficiently run and imaginative organisation. Seeing a perusing car get picked up by a helicopter and dropped into the ocean will never cease to entertain.

Although there’s a stark contrast between the dry first half and bombastic second half they do mesh together better than expected. While it is more imaginative and exciting than some adventures of the era there’s other flaws with the film.

This is not one of them.

Many of the characters exist only to fulfill the expectations that the series has set up at this point. Brandt, for example, quickly gets established as a femme fatale who captures Bond, seduces him and then tries to off him in a needlessly elaborate set-up before she is disposed off in her next scene. It feel’s as though she was written into the script just to fulfill Pussy Galore role that was becoming standard. Like Brandt quite a few of the supporting cast members only serve to fill archetypes and frequently act without motivation.

Neither is this.

If you prefer your Bond relying on his gadgets more than his wits then this is a one of the best the early years of the franchise can offer.

Score: SEVEN outta TEN

This is one of the best posters of the series though.