After a quick detour into spoof territory with 1967’s Casino Royale, I jump right back into the regular Bond films with You Only Live Twice.
Because I was told by others in the office that there was one particular Bond movie that took place in Japan, when I realized You Only Live Twice was that movie, I was prepared for the silliness to return. I could only imagine what a late ’60s portrayal of Japanese culture would yield. Interestingly enough, I found that this 5th official Bond film was overall another serious installment, and a pretty decent one at that.
A couple of things I immediately noticed as early as the opening credits: First, there is actually someone employed in the department of “Continuity.” I don’t know if it is or was a common thing, but I’ve never seen it before, and I thought it was rather appropriate that the first time I notice it would be in an early James Bond movie, where continuity isn’t always of the highest priority. Secondly, the screenplay was written by who? Roald Dahl? What? The guy who wrote Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and James and the Giant Peach? I’m a huge fan of Dahl, including his more adult stories, so this was an incredibly novel (and utterly random) surprise for me. Throughout the movie, I paid special attention to see if I could detect any of Dahl’s fingerprints, but a Bond script is so far removed from what I know of his writing — and I’ve read a lot of it — that I came up empty.
Now, while I did write above that Thunderball maintained a fairly serious tone, I have to point out what I’m sure everyone is expecting me to mention: Bond’s “transformation” into a Japanese man to go undercover in a fishing village. They go to the trouble of laying Sean Connery out on what appears to be an operating table, Face/Off style, with half a dozen Japanese girls applying makeup, implanting a new head of hair, and shaving his chest. When the newly converted 007 emerges, we see that the agent has magically become… Sean Connery in a kimono and a bowl-cut. Shocking, positively shocking. He looks like the father of Lloyd Christmas from Dumb and Dumber, or a cross between George W. Bush and a Vulcan (see pic above).
Oh, but it gets better. Not only are there ninjas on Bond’s side (YES! Ninjas!), but Bond is also trained to become one! There are a couple of scenes that depict his training, but they’re far from impressive. And you know, it really makes sense when you see the ninjas in action later: they might just be the worst ninjas ever captured on celluloid. Foregoing the strategic advantage of operating in small groups, if not solo, and maintaining invisibility through stealth, the ninjas of You Only Live Twice travel by the hundreds, carry machine guns, and storm enemy bases head on. They’re more like commandos in blue pajamas.
The payoff at the end is that we finally get to see the face of the elusive Ernst Stavro Blofeld, who captures Bond and introduces himself to him. It’s also apparent why Blofeld never shows his face, as the right side of it looks like an unfinished claymation mold. His mere introduction, however, tells me that we’re closing in on the villain. Blofeld apparently figures heavily into the story for On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, which is my next viewing, but since Bond will be played by George Lazenby instead of Sean Connery, I’ll be sad if Bond finally defeats Blofeld in that film. Connery at least deserves to get a little freaky with Blofeld’s mistress, whoever that may be, after all Blofeld has put him through.
It was refreshing to return to the real franchise after wading through the nonsense of Casino Royale. The movie was absolutely focused on telling its story, so the women were mostly forgettable, and it rarely veered off into unnecessary tangents. In this way, it felt more to me like From Russia With Love than the other installments, except that it wasn’t quite as good, in my opinion. I enjoyed it overall, but unless I wanted to amass a comprehensive Bond collection, I don’t think I could see myself wanting to own it, unlike, say Dr. No, which will probably have a lot of replay value for me.
My favorite line: “Why do Chinese girls taste different from all other girls?” I’ve often wondered the same thing, Mr. Bond.
My favorite moment: Early on, Bond assumes the identity of a defeated Japanese assassin by donning his trenchcoat, hat, and shoes and convincing the getaway driver he’s injured. The getaway driver carries Bond into the enemy’s headquarters without so much as a thought as to why his buddy suddenly grew a foot and gained 35 pounds.