Shortly after watching my first ever full James Bond movie, I remember my dad telling me a bit about You Only Live Twice. He mentioned how MI6 faked Bond’s death in order to help him infiltrate the enemy. But until I finally saw this movie a couple years ago, that’s all I knew about it. In a lot of ways, this is the most ambitious Bond movie we’ve looked at yet. It also brings a sense of closure to what was at that point intended to be Sean Connery’s last appearance as James Bond.
On Her Magesty’s Secret Service was originally intended to be the fifth James Bond movie, but they decided to delay it until after You Only Live Twice so they didn’t need to search for high and snowy locations just yet. Lewis Gilbert originally declined to direct the movie, but he later accepted after producer Albert R. Broccoli called him saying, “You can’t give up this job. It’s the largest audience in the world.” Gilbert would move on to direct The Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker, both starring the late Roger Moore.
Gilbert, along with the producers, travelled to Japan for three weeks to search for locations. SPECTER’s base was originally going to be a shore fortress, but they later changed it to an extinct volcano after they learned that Japan didn’t build castles by sea. And to be honest, a volcano base is just more awesome anyway. It was still fairly original back then as well.
Unlike the previous entries in the series, You Only Live Twice made a lot of changes from the original book. In fact, one of the few aspects that stayed true to the original was that pretty much the entire movie took place in one country. The movie and book share the strong focus on Japanese culture and locations. There’s an extended sequence focusing on an elaborate Japanese wedding. Toho Studios, the company that created Godzilla, helped production out by providing sound stages, crew, and the female Japanese stars.
Harold Jack Bloom was originally signed to write the screenplay, but his work was ultimately rejected. All that remains of his work in the final picture was Bond’s fake death and burial at sea, and the ninja attack in the epic finale. Roald Dahl, a close friend of Ian Fleming’s, was chosen to write the adaptation despite having no previous screenplay experience. Well, save for a movie called The Bells of Hell Go Ting-a-ling-a-ling that was never finished due to weather problems.
Dahl called You Only Live Twice Fleming’s worst book. He cited little plot that could be use in a movie, and compared it to a travelogue. He only had 6 weeks to deliver the script, and at first, didn’t know where to start. He eventually based the story off of Dr. No and tied in Japanese locations and themes. And there are similarities between these two Bond movies regarding how the story progresses. With that said, this is easily the better movie of the two.
Fun fact – Sean Connery’s then wife, Diane Cilento, acted as a body double during several swimming scenes in the movie.
(Here, James Bond drinks saki instead of his signature vodka martini, shaken not stirred)
After Frank Sinatra turned down the role of singing the title song, his daughter, Nancy Sinatra, accepted the role. She was reportedly very nervous while recording. She almost walked out of the studio even. But the end result is a song that became quite popular on radio at the time. It’s recognized for its strong oriental flavor, while still suiting Nancy’s voice quite well. In fact, it might be up there with the best Bond theme songs.
You Only Live Twice released the day my father was born, June 13 of 1967. I personally find that to be a really neat tidbit. But back to the movie’s release, it earned over $111 million worldwide, on a budget of $10 million, making it a massive success. Reception both back then and now is generally positive, but not quite as positive as the previous three movies. Some people criticized Ernst Stavro Blowfeld (the main villain) for his over the top appearance. Yet I think it’s a great villain look.
Roger Ebert criticized the movie’s focus on gadgets, declaring that it didn’t quite work its magic. Others called it a memorable adventure, but the plot is kind of confusing. There are entertainment publications that have ranked You Only Live Twice quite high in the bond franchise. IGN ranked it as the fourth best Bond movie, and Entertainment Weekly went as far as calling it the second best. Then again, MSN called it the fifth worst.
Personally, I like this movie a lot. It’s not my favourite by any means, but it feels like a good conclusion to the SPECTER storyline and a fine intended closure on Connery’s run as the title character. The action set pieces are very impressive for the 1960’s. The plot, while a bit vague at times, also establishes what SPECTER is really about. They’re possibly run by the Chinese, and their goal is to get Russia and the United States at each other’s throats, so they can take over the world in the aftermath.
The Japanese setting, exploration of Japanese culture, and the oriental influenced score almost give this movie a bit of a romantic feeling. It makes for a movie that gets very close to the more dramatic feel of From Russia With Love. At the same time, the action is a lot more intense. In fact, this still remains the Bond movie with the highest overall kill count. Speaking of which …
You Only Live Twice Kill Counter:
Bond kills – 21
Other’s kills – 175
Total kill count – 196
Sean Connery’s kill count so far – 65
So overall I’d recommend this to James Bond fans who somehow haven’t seen it before. That said, it’s probably worth at least watching From Russia With Love and Thunderball first to get that sense of closure. Even with the fact that Blowfeld survives this movie, at least you finally get to see his face before Connery’s intended departure. Throw in Dr. No and you’ve got a quadrilogy of sorts. I’m not saying you should skip Goldfinger even if I don’t like that movie all that much (a lot of people really love it), but it takes a break from SPECTER to focus on a one-off villain.
Next up is Diamonds Are Forever, Connery’s last official appearance as James Bond. After that, I’ll be taking a break from this Bond Blogathon to look at Dreamworks movies for a month. I’ll probably look at somewhere between 5 or 6 movies, and then we’ll hopefully be back to 007 movies in July. At that point, I’ll look at the odds and ends that don’t quite fit into any other category by these standards. That will include the George Lazenby movie, both Timothy Dalton movies, and at least two unofficial entries.
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