You Only Live Twice

A Film Review by James Berardinelli
2.5 stars
United Kingdom, 1967
Running Length: 1:56
MPAA Classification: PG (Sexual innuendo, violence)
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.2:1

Cast: Sean Connery, Donald Pleasence, Akiko Wakabayashi, Tetsuro Tamba, Mie Hama, Bernard Lee, Desmond Llewelyn, Lois Maxwell
Director: Lewis Gilbert
Producer: Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman
Screenplay: Roald Dahl based on the novel by Ian Fleming
Cinematography: Freddie Young
Music: John Barry
U.S. Distributor: United Artists

Forever remembered as the "Japanese Bond", You Only Live Twice takes 007 to the Far East for his fifth screen adventure, Sean Connery's final consecutive appearance as the top British agent (the actor returned to the role twice more: 1971's Diamonds Are Forever and 1983's Never Say Never Again). Unfortunately, this is also among the weakest of the early Bond films, although Connery is in peak form.

The plot is the problem. It stretches the limits of credibility, even as that word is applied to Bond movies. Blofeld (Donald Pleasence in his pre-Halloween days) and SPECTRE hijack American and Soviet spaceships in an attempt to precipitate a war between the superpowers. It's up to Bond to uncover evidence that will avert the conflagration, and the trail leads to Japan. There, he's matched up with the ever-efficient, beautiful Aki (Akiko Wakabayashi) and her boss, Tiger Tanaka (Tetsuro Tamba), as he sets out to find SPECTRE's hideout, and the space capsules concealed there.

The first half of You Only Live Twice is very good, with several skillfully-executed action sequences and the development of an unexpectedly warm relationship between Bond and Aki. It's only during the second half, as the plot escalates beyond the bounds of preposterousness, that the film starts to fragment. Some viewers enjoy 007's most outrageous outings; I prefer a little restraint (and I emphasize the "a little" part). Wild chases, neat gadgets, and death-defying escapes are fine; rockets that swallow up spacecraft are a bit too extravagant.

The unmasking of Blofeld is a disappointment. In From Russia with Love and Thunderball, he was just an ominous voice, his face carefully hidden from our view. Here, he's seen for the first time, and it's a letdown when all we get is a rather ordinary-looking Donald Pleasance -- a solid actor, to be sure, but not very good at creating a diabolical personality. (The best Blofeld was Max Von Sydow in Never Say Never Again.)

Nevertheless, any Bond movie with Sean Connery can't be all bad, and there are the usual chases, fights, and amazing stunts -- all sprinkled with a dash of Japanese flavoring. Bond learns what it means to be a ninja, and gets an opportunity to put that knowledge to use as he zigs and zags, avoiding assassination attempts. Then there's the usual assortment of women, both European and Asian, for Britain's most dashing secret service agent to romance. In short, while You Only Live Twice falls somewhere in the middle of the 007 film heap, it still offers that unique brand of wit, style, and adventure that only comes with Bond.

© 1995 James Berardinelli

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