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You Only Live Twice (1967)

A review by Damian Cannon.
Copyright © Movie Reviews UK 1997

The fifth in the eternal Bond cycle, You Only Live Twice has 007 decamp to Japan in a vacant, too loud search for evil industrial influence. Opening in the cold wastes of space, one of the US Jupiter missions is ready to perform an EVA manoeuvre. All goes well until a shadow appears on the radar monitor, heading directly towards the capsule. In a moment of sheer horror, the unidentified spacecraft engulfs the smaller vehicle, consigning the floating astronaut to a painful demise. Meanwhile, James Bond (Sean Connery) is wrapping up his latest assignment, in Hong Kong, with some extracurricular bedroom activity. Unfortunately, Bond has let his hormones get the better of him. In seconds 007 is transformed from ardent lover to bullet-riddled corpse, a fitting (and ironic) end for such a lady-killer.

Naturally the Americans are convinced that the USSR has captured their man, in a bid to claim sovereignty over space. The Russians deny everything and, for once, the British side with them, pointing out that the unknown rocket descended somewhere near Japan. So, in view of the delicacy of the situation, Bond finds himself tagged for the job by "M" (Bernard Lee); the funeral at sea was merely for show, much to the relief of Miss Moneypenny (Lois Maxwell). In no time Bond is clambering stealthily onto a Japanese beach, set for a meeting with his contact Henderson (Charles Gray). The problem is that Henderson gets murdered before he can reveal the identity of his chief suspect, Osato Industries. He might as well have though, since Bond soon hooks up with Tiger Tanaka (Tetsuro Tamba), the head of the Japanese Secret Service, and investigates Mr Osato (Teru Shimada) personally. From the stench of corruption, it appears that Ernst Stavro Blofeld (Donald Pleasence) and SPECTRE are behind this threat to global stability.

While You Only Live Twice is the last in an unbroken run of Connery performances, his presence is easily the strongest element of the movie. Now settled into his international agent persona, Connery is relaxed, confident and assured. A serial seducer, he alternates work and play with panache, pausing only to drop dry one-liners. Elsewhere the cast members get precious little quality screen time, even those who've matured right alongside Connery. Both "M" and "Q" (Desmond Llewelyn) are wasted, while Pleasence does well considering how underwritten the arch-nemesis of Bond is. On the female side of affairs, You Only Live Twice is something of a feminist's nightmare. All of the women are weak and sexually available, falling instantly into Bond's clutches as soon as he turns on the charm. Akiko Wakabayashi (Aki) and Mie Hama (Kissy Suzuki) get the most rewarding roles, but that really isn't saying much.

The bulk of Lewis Gilbert's energy appears to have been directed towards the action sequences, of which there are many. Throughout the first half of You Only Live Twice, a seemingly indestructible Bond defeats all and sundry. The bad guys have innumerable opportunities to put him out of action, yet they fluff every one and 007 keeps bouncing back to cause havoc. It's only in the second half that the pace bogs down, before winding up for the final, ludicrous round of destruction. Fortunately the large-scale sets of Ken Adam are enough to snare the attention, despite cut-price effects which threaten to transform the entire affair into farce. It's fairly surprising then that "Q" and his gadgets get barely a look in, being restricted to the strictly conventional (and immediately useful).

The saddest aspect of You Only Live Twice is, however, the dreadful and uninspired screenplay of Roald Dahl. It's difficult to believe that a master of fiction could have come up with such a weak script, unless substantial alterations were made in post-processing. The big problem is that there's no suspense, with the storyline utterly failing to draw out the tension. Instead solutions and resolutions occur far too quickly, as if there were some penalty for delaying the pay-off. Added to the transparent characters, blunt double-entendres and stereotypical depiction of Japan, there's little to relish here. It would be easy to continue in the same vein (just how could any but the most inattentive islander fail to notice a rocket launch?), but this verges on pointlessness. Ultimately You Only Live Twice is a short attention span movie, easily left and returned to, with lots of bang for your buck.

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