CAST: Sean Connery, Akiko Wakabayashi, Mie Hama, Tetsurō Tamba, Teru Shimada, Karin Dor, Donald Pleasance, Bernard Lee, Lois Maxwell, Desmond Llewelyn, Charles Gray, Tsai Chin, Peter Maivia, Burt Kwouk, Michael Chow, Ronald Rich, Jeanne Roland, David Toguri
RUNNING TIME: 117 mins
BASICALLY…: James Bond (Connery) teams up with the Japanese Secret Service to find and stop whoever is behind a series of space hijackings…
NOW FOR THE REVIEW…
With No Time To Die being pushed back all the way to November, the world needs its fix of Ian Fleming’s ace secret agent to tide them over until then. That’s why, every week until it finally comes out, we’re going to be taking a look at each previous movie in the series to see if, and how, they hold up today.
This week, we’re taking a look at You Only Live Twice, which out of all the Sean Connery movies is perhaps the silliest and most implausible of the lot – and it’s also an absolute blast. It might even be my personal favourite out of the Connery era, because there’s so much fun to be had with the action, the characters and the cheesy Bond clichés that it’s the first one where I could see myself watching it dozens more times; it really is that enjoyable.
It starts off with Bond faking his death so that he can be sent on a covert mission; someone is stealing American and Russian space capsules when they’re in orbit, which is causing both superpowers to pass the blame between themselves before full-blown nuclear war can become an option. To prevent that from happening, Bond is sent to Japan where he teams up with the local secret service, led by Tiger Tanaka (Tetsurō Tamba), in an attempt to pinpoint the location of the craft and stop whoever is behind it from causing the world to destroy itself.
You should probably have some idea of the kind of epic silliness you’re getting into when you see the following credit during the Nancy Sinatra-crooning opening sequence: “Written by Roald Dahl.” Yes, THAT Roald Dahl; it came as quite a shock to me as well that the beloved children’s author, with his first screenwriting credit (his second, funnily enough, would be based on another Ian Fleming property, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang), had not only written a Bond film but also made it as delightfully nonsensical as one of his books. There are points in this movie where you can kind of tell that it was Roald Dahl who wrote it, from the eccentric characters such as Tiger Tanaka who is such an interesting person that you kind of want to see an entire film about this guy and the stealth organisation he runs – complete with ninjas, because of course there are ninjas in is – to some of the gadgets which would fit right in to the same whimsical universe as Willy Wonka. Take “Little Nessie”, for instance, a small compact helicopter which Bond rides for one of the film’s most entertaining action sequences; watching someone fly in that tiny little thing is utterly hilarious, but it never feels like you’re actively laughing at it but instead in constant awe of how such a ridiculous concept is actually working on-screen.
The way that the action is, the dialogue, the elaborate sets – this is the one that features the iconic and much-spoofed volcano lair set, lampooned in everything from Austin Powers to The Simpsons, and jokes aside it is a pretty awesome design – and the introduction of the much-teased Blofeld (here played by Donald Pleasance in his first and only appearance as the head of SPECTRE), it’s all done with such a giddy nature that it’s hard not to have fun with. Of all the Connery Bond films so far, this is the one I’ve the most fun watching, because it doesn’t seem to take itself quite as seriously as the others (although I’m not sure all of that was intentional) and focuses instead on delivering pure thrills and entertainment without bogging itself down with a needlessly complicated plot; a film like Goldfinger is technically better than this one in the script department, but from a personal standpoint I found myself enjoying this one a little more just for the goofiness it was unashamedly throwing at the screen.
There are, of course, one or two things that haven’t exactly aged well with this film, as you will probably have already suspected. The film’s treatment of women, especially in Japan, seems very much based on a certain stereotype within Japanese culture – characters straight up say “In Japan, men come first” – and it’s a little awkward to see them treated as nothing more than sex objects in certain scenes, with little to no actual character of their own. It’s a movie that even treats its lead Bond girls with not a lot of respect; when a major character dies who Bond grows a little close to, he just reacts like he’s more annoyed than broken up, and another one introduced later on in the film spends half of her screen-time in a skimpy bikini while Connery gets to actually wear clothes. Then, of course, there’s the part where Bond must be disguised as a Japanese person in order to infiltrate an island, even going so far as to be physically augmented in order to match the ethnicity; the results are as laughably awkward as you can imagine, especially when Connery makes no attempt to hide his Scottish accent underneath his ridiculous make-up. Racially, it’s definitely questionable (and I doubt it flew over well with certain ethnicities at the time as well), but it honestly matches the tone of the rest of the movie; problematic without question, but so silly and over-the-top you have no other option than to laugh at how ridiculous it is.
That being said, I did have a blast watching this crazy and ridiculous action flick, which is very much a product of its time but reached an epic level of silliness that made it utterly irresistible to watch, even if it’s mainly on a somewhat ironic level.
SO, TO SUM UP…
You Only Live Twice is perhaps the most enjoyable – and certainly the silliest – of the early Connery movies, with fun action and eccentric characters you can admire for hours, although some of its attitudes towards race and gender have naturally not aged that well.