YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE

(1967)
With Sean Connery, Donald Pleasence, Mie Hama, Akiko Wakabayashi, Tetsuro Tamba, Bernard Lee, Desmond Llewelyn, Lois Maxwell
Directed by Lewis Gilbert
Reviewed by JL and JB

A volcano is not a home without love     YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE is the weakest James Bond film of the 1960s, although it has its strengths. Sean Connery would return to the role of Bond in 1971 and 1983, but this was his final consecutive appearance in the role and his weariness is telling. He's still the best Bond even when delivering a phoned-in performance, but the film might have been improved a bit had he shown some of the energy and élan of earlier outings. There was little he could do, however, to remedy the tedium and ridiculousness of the film's second half, during which matte paintings of volcanoes blow up and the mysterious Blofeld is revealed to be the vertically challenged Donald Pleasence. It's all the more disappointing given the promise of the first half of the film, which contains some decent action sequences, hairbreadth escapes, an entertaining mini-tour of Japan, and a very clever scheme in which Bond fakes his own death. The screenplay for YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE was written by Roald Dahl (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, James and the Giant Peach), one of two Ian Fleming books he would adapt for the screen (the other being CHITTY CHITTY BANG BANG).  3½ - JL


Go Go, Gadget Death Machine!     YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE has many things going for it: great Ken Adams sets, several outstanding fight sequences, two lovely Japanese "Bond Girls" and an intriguing and far-fetched supervillain plot borrowed and expanded from DR. NO. But the "bigger Bond is better Bond" attitude of the film actually made it the weakest of the five Bond films to date (it is however a better, if less fun, film than Connery's last official Bond film DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER). In THUNDERBALL, all the fun "Bondian" elements surrounding the character of 007 - the gadgets, the gags, the sets - threatened to overwhelm the character himself.  In YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE, that stuff takes over completely and Bond hardly has a chance.

    The writers had little to work with this time, since Ian Fleming's original novel is one of his bleakest and least thrilling, so they punted Fleming's story and revisited the plot of DR. NO with an eye towards making it the biggest, baddest Bond story yet. But despite its bigness, YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE is also boring for long stretches. Blofeld's volcano fortress is a classic set, but the film needed a huge presence like Orson Welles or Marlon Brando to inhabit it, not Donald Pleasence, who, although a fine actor, is simply too short to project the menace that Blofeld represents. What should be the highlight of the film - Bond's flight in the "Little Nellie" copter - turned out to be one of the weakest scenes, as there are no surprises,  We are told beforehand what weapons it possesses, and then, one by one, Bond uses them to take down enemy helicopters without much of an effort, while the James Bond theme blasts on the soundtrack to signal how exciting it is all supposed to be. Similarly. the once-innovative  trick where the supervillain kills the person we least expect him to kill no longer holds any shock value, and to make it worse, this device is used twice in the film. 

    However, YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE has one of the most iconic endings of all Bond films, as Bond, 100 ninjas and, yes, a girl in a white bikini, invade Blofeld's Fake Volcano headquarters and enage in a battle royale with Blofeld's army. It ends with Bond saving the day and Blofeld arming (what else?) the self-destruct button. The massive volcano set was probably Ken Adams' masterpiece of the entire series, and would inspire several similar sets (and several similar battles) in later Bond films, Mr. Big's underground headquarters of LIVE AND LET DIE being the most immediate successor. 3 - JB    

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The Secret Vortex

IN SPACE, NO ONE CAN HEAR GOOD MOVIE QUOTES

"Goodbye, Mr. Bond"


HOW TO TALK LIKE A BOND VILLAIN

"I shall look forward personally to exterminating you, Mr. Bond."


IT AIN'T EASY BECOMING A BOND GIRL!

   In order to film in Japan, producers Harry Saltzman and Cubby Broccoli agreed to cast native Japanese actresses in for the parts of Bond girls Kissy Suzuki and Suki. However, they had trouble finding two actresses in Japan who could speak English well enough and in the end, they settled on two popular stars, Akiko Wakabayashi (L) and Mie Hama (R). Neither knew English but both were more than willing to take a crash course in London. Although they would have no scenes together in YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE, Wakabayashi and Hama had previously worked together in the Japanese films KING KONG VS. GODZILLA (1962), THE LOST WORLD OF SINBAD (1963) and the Bondish spy thriller KEY OF KEYS (1965), which Woody Allen redubbed and edited a year later and released as his first film WHAT'S UP, TIGER LILY? (1966).

    Wakabayashi picked up English very quickly, but Hama had much more difficulty. Because of Hama's troubles, the two actresses switched roles, giving Hama a supposedly easier time with the smaller role of Kissy. Wakabayashi took the role of Suki and suggested the character's name be changed to "Aki" (possibly because it reflected her own name, or because her character name in KEY OF KEYS was renamed "Suki Yaki" in WHAT'S UP, TIGER LILY? released the previous year). Still, even with less dialog in the smaller part, Hama's work did not please the director Lewis Gilbert, and he suggested to the producers that she be replaced. When Hama was told she would be out of the film, she reportedly vowed to take her own life, and after much ensuing panic, she stayed in the picture.  

"I'm Phil Moscowitz, Lovable Rogue!".  Mie Hama may have wound up with the smaller role, but it was the sexier, more visual one, as she spent most of her screentime in a white bikini, ala Ursula Andress in DR. NO. She parlayed this into a Bond-related Playboy shoot (not the centerfold) and continued to work in films through the seventies. Her next role after Kissy Suzuki (a name which is never mentioned in the film) was the villainous Madame Piranha in KING KONG VS. GODZILLA, though it may be merely coincidence that she was named after the same fish Blofeld kept as pets and human disposal devices in YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE. Mie Hama is certainly the Bond girl most fans remember from this film, not just for her beauty but, let's face it, for the white bikini. Meanwhile, Akiko Wakabayashi wound up retiring from the screen just one film after YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE and is often overlooked as a Bond girl because of Hama's more memorable bikini-clad role.

    In the end, it appears both women still wound up dubbed, but because they both learned English well enough, the dubbing is near perfect.