You Only Live Twice, the fifth James Bond film and the fifth to feature Sean Connery in the lead role, opens on space, where a manned, United States spacecraft is hovering over Earth’s orbit. As one of the two astronauts leaves the craft, a larger spacecraft starts barreling toward them. This larger, unidentified spacecraft swallows the U.S. craft whole, leaving the external astronaut for dead in open space and the U.S. government up in arms over their lost craft.
After seeing this international kerfuffle over the missing spacecraft–the U.S. blaming the Soviets and England blaming the Japanese–we meet Bond in Hong Kong, where he is investigating the very issue at hand. His first words succeed at being both racist and sexist at the same time, and the woman he is bedding promptly double-crosses him, retracting the Murphy bed he is sleeping on into the wall and leaving him to armed assailants, who fire mercilessly at the wall. When the police arrive on the scene, it is already too late. James Bond is dead.
Boy, the title kind of ruins the drama of that reveal, doesn’t it?
Nancy Sinatra’s opening title song is nothing to write home about. It doesn’t have the same power behind it as the best of the Connery Bond songs. What is of note in these opening titles: Roald Dahl is our screenwriter for the proceedings. You know, the children’s fiction author.
After being buried at sea, Bond is quickly picked up by two scuba divers and transported to a submarine, where M (Bernard Lee) is waiting. Bond, now hopefully off the radar of his various SPECTRE enemies, is sent to Japan to find the stolen spacecraft.
The exposition from here is long. Too long. Bond goes to a Sumo wrestling match to meet a man named Henderson (Charles Grey), but Henderson does not come in person, sending a woman named Aki instead (Akiko Wakabayashi). Aki takes Bond to Henderson, who tells Bond to meet another man named Tiger Tanaka (Tetsuro Tamba). Henderson is then promptly killed. Later, Bond meets with Tanaka, and then gets sponge-bathed by three half-naked women. It’s all a huge ordeal. Some corners could have been cut here.
Even post-exposition, not much is going on. There is a shoddily put together helicopter fight sequence. Then, we get a glimpse of the now-infamous volcano base and what’s inside. And, ninjas. And, modern ninjas?
Oh, and Bond “becomes a Japanese.” It just doesn’t get more racist than that.
This movie is problematic. Connery, not getting paid as much as he would like at this point in his Bond tenure, is starting to phone in his performances. For the first movie to put Bond’s major adversary, Blofeld, at center stage, there isn’t much of him. Donald Pleasence does set the stage for the cliche Bond villain shtick of future films and its impersonators. This said, he could have played a larger role than a third act escapee.
And, to put it bluntly, it is boring for an action movie. Heightening Cold War tensions by stealing spacecrafts doesn’t lead to very interesting Bond antics, I’m afraid. What it does have to its credit, though, is better overall pacing than its predecessor Thunderball.
Perhaps it’s Sean Connery-Bond fatigue, but I couldn’t get into YOLT.
You Only Live Twice: C+
As always, thanks for reading!
You Only Live Twice is currently available to rent/buy on Amazon Video here.
Have you seen You Only Live Twice? If so, what did you think? Is it way better than I give it credit for? Who is your favorite Bond villain? Let me know in the comments!
- You Only Live Twice: C+
- Thunderball: C-
- Goldfinger: A-
- From Russia With Love: A-
- Dr. No: B
–Alex Brannan (@TheAlexBrannan)