Wednesday, November 12, 2008


James Bond heads off for Japan to avert World War III in “Alfie” director Lewis Gilbert’s “You Only Live Twice,” the fifth entry in the Harry Saltzman & Albert R. Broccoli 007 series from the 1960s. “You Only Live Twice” resembles a souped up version of the first Bond adventure “Dr. No” in that it involves SPECTRE (Special Executive for Counter-intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge, and Extortion) again. Instead of tampering with the guidance system of American rockets and knocking them out of the air, SPECTRE is stealing American spacecraft and making it look like the Soviets are to blame. The villain works out of a secret base and he has a fabulous art collection.

This Bond introduced a number of firsts of the franchise. First, this represents the first time that audiences saw 007’s previously anonymous nemesis Ernst Stavro Blofeld. British character Donald Pleasance took over the role at the last minute when Czech actor Jan Werich fell ill and had to be replaced. Second, there are no scenes set in the United Kingdom. Bond doesn’t receive his usual briefing in M’s office. Third, the movie differed even more from the novel than earlier efforts. Fourth, Sean Connery had grown fat and sassy because he is no longer the lean, wolfish secret agent that he was in “Dr. No.” Fifth, the producers hammered home the dangers of cigarette smoking in three scenes. Sixth, this is also the first time that we see Ian Fleming’s super spy decked out in his naval uniform. Indeed, “You Only Live Twice” served as the template for the military, World War III Bonds such as “The Spy Who Loved Me” and “Tomorrow Never Dies” where our protagonist donned his naval togs. Sixth, 007 never introduces himself as “Bond, James Bond.”

The action opens in outer space as U.S. astronauts are space walking when a mysterious space craft approaches them and its nose cone opens and engulf the American capsule and cuts the lifeline of the astronaut. Since “You Only Live Twice” took place during the Cold War, the Americans accused the Soviet Union of this abduction in outer space. His Majesty’s government isn’t convinced that the Russians hijacked the American spacecraft. The action cuts to James Bond in bed with a Japanese beauty that is really setting him up for a hit squad. Before she lets the killers into her apartment to shoot our hero, she promises Bond that she will give him the very best “duck.” Pressing a button on the wall, the mechanism closes the bed in which 007 is strewn up into the wall and a couple of machine-gun toting thugs break in and pepper the bed with a hail of bullets. When British authorities arrive, they find an unconscious Bond in the sack with blood on the sheets. As it turns out, the killing is nothing more than a ruse to throw Bond’s enemies off the scent while he goes in for—as M (Bernard Lee)—his most important mission. The Americans are teetering on the edge of war with the Kremlin and the Kremlin has scheduled a space flight of their own.

The scene where Bond’s shroud encased body is dumped into Tokyo Bay in a mock funeral is too cool. As his body settles on the ocean floor, scuba divers swim up, retrieve his body, and take him onboard a submarine where M awaits him with his mission orders. After Bond is told that this mission is “the big one,” he is fired out of a torpedo tube in the ocean and swims to the mainland where an operative of Japan’s Special Intelligence Service. Bond meets with a British official, Dikko Henderson (Charles Gray of “Diamonds Are Forever”), and learns that the head of Japanese S.I.S., Tiger Tanaka (Tetsuro Tamba of “The 5-Man Army”) has his own suspicions about a giant industrial concern, Soto Chemical Corporation. Before Bond meets Tiger, he has an encounter with the villains after they murder Henderson. Bond kills the killer and masquerades as him, despite the fact that he is clearly taller than the killer. Anyway, he bundles himself into the back of the sedan driven by another Osato person and winds up in the giant building. The villain who carried him inside is shocked when Bond surprises him and one of the best hand-to-hand combat scenes in the entire series plays swiftly with Bond wielding a couch to knock the villain down. Afterward, our hero plunders the corporation owner’s vault and discovers that fishy things are going on near an island. It seems that an innocent American tourist took a photo of a cargo ship and “was eliminated as a precaution.”

Tiger assembles an army of Ninjas at his castle training ground and—very improbably—Bond masquerades again as a Japanese fisherman to reconnoiter the island where the ship is seen. Tanaka sneaks Bond onto the island as a newlywed of a local girl. They discover a cave that contains poison gas and later learn that it gives access to the volcano. Meanwhile, the suspense mounts as the United States launches another spacecraft and threatens to go to war with the Soviet Union if their space capsule is abducted. Matters aren’t helped when Blofeld capsule gobbling spacecraft swallows a Russian space capsule. The big, bang-up finale in the volcano where Blofeld has his headquarters as well as a rocket launching site is deliciously outlandish stuff.

Indisputably, “You Only Live Twice” qualifies as the most outrageous of the Bond movies at the time and you have to realize as you watch it that much of what occurs is incredibly far-fetched. Nevertheless, the stunning Japanese scenery, the invigorating fight sequences, and Blofeld’s mind-blowing headquarters in an extinct volcano overshadow many of the unbelievable scenes. As another Bond director—Guy Hamilton—used to say, you have to watch these extravaganzas with your mind turned off because too many incredible things occur. John Barry’s orchestral score ranks as one of the most memorable and Nancy Sinatra’s song is one of the best.

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