A surefire way to get people interested in yet another installment of James Bond is to kill him off in the pre-opening sequence, and then leave them wondering, during Nancy Sinatra’s rendition of “You Only Live Twice”, how to bring him back for the rest of the story or if the movie is going to continue without him. That question is answered immediately after the song has ended, by his sudden ‘resurrection’. Thus concludes the only surprise of Sean Connery’s fifth Bond film You Only Live Twice.
With the world thinking him dead, Bond investigates a series of Russian and American spacecraft that are abducted in space to instigate an open war between the two superpowers. His investigation takes him to Japan, which the entire movie is set in, to discover that SPECTRE is behind the spacecraft abductions. But Bond does not fight them alone. He joins forces with Tokyo Secret Service chief “Tiger” Tanaka (Tetsuro Tamba) and romances two of his lovely agents: Aki (Akiko Wakabayashi), and another who is Bond’s arranged wife (Mie Hama) with “a face like a pig”. Bond finally meets his old nemesis Blofeld (Donald Pleasence), but not before resisting the deadly schemes hatched by SPECTRE agents Osato (Teru Shimada) and Helga Brandt (Karin Dor).
Bond’s apparent death is clearly one of the most shocking pre-opening sequence in the entire Bond series. Sadly, that is also the highest point in the entire movie. After the opening credits, there are no further surprises. Not SPECTRE’s secret hideout under a volcano, the inventive traps that try to ensnare Bond, or the revelation of Blofeld’s face can rescale the peak established by Bond’s ‘death’. His ‘second life’ begins far too early for his ‘death’ to have any impact in the story.
You Only Live Twice is one of Connery’s more action-oriented Bond films, and contains many of them. Making up much of the plot lacks includes elaborate car chases (without Bond at the wheel), the dogfight with one-man mini-helicopter “Little Nellie”, a lengthy gun battle in SPECTRE’s volcano hideout, Bond’s one-on-ones with burly henchmen and his escape from the villain’s traps. The exotic locale of Japan certainly help spark some creative action sequences. Aki’s death via poisoning provides the only other high point in the movie, though not as near as Bond’s own. There is little substance beyond the action sequences.
Connery has already decided to quit the role of 007, as his performance clearly shows. He still maintains the usual charisma and suaveness, but lacking the sharpness from his previous Bond outings. With the exception of the “a face like a pig” remark, none of his other lines are delivered with any bite. The Japanese cast members are uninteresting. Their voices are dubbed and do not compliment with their performances. Blofeld loses his presence after his face is revealed, no thanks to Pleasence. The villains are bland and unforgettable. As are the Bond girls.
Aside from the opening sequence, You Only Live Twice is also known for one other thing: the end of Connery’s reign as Bond for the moment. He would return a few years later in his second life as 007 in Diamonds Are Forever, and bring his reign to a sweeter finish.
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