Thursday, February 23, 2012

Film Review: You Only Live Twice

You Only Live Twice
  • Publisher: United Artists
  • Production Studio: Danjaq / EON Productions
  • Release: 13 June 1967
  • Genre: Action
  • Director: Lewis Gilbert
  • Producers: Albert R. Broccoli, Harry Salzman
  • Writer: Roald Dahl

The Girls: Aki (Akiko Wakabayashi), a Japanese SIS agent, poisoned by a SPECTRE assassin, and "Kissy" Suzuki (Mie Hama), a civilian pearl-diver who gets "married" to Bond. A couple of girls so forgettable, they even killed off one of them, and you'd be hard-pressed to notice the difference. 2 out of 5.

Other Allies: "Tiger" Tanaka (Tetsurou Tanba), head of the SIS, Japan's equivalent of MI6. Also commands a ninja team which launches an assault on SPECTRE's base. Another joyful performance in the vein of Kerim Bey. 5 out of 5.

Richard Henderson (Charles Gray), one of Bond's contacts in Tokyo. He also has a fair camaraderie with Bond, having allegedly served in a war together.  Of course, that doesn't stop him from accidentally serving him a martini "stirred, not shaken".  Stabbed in the back by a SPECTRE assassin4 out of 5.

The Villain: Ernst Stavro Blofeld (Donald Pleasance), the number 1 executive of SPECTRE. While his performance is a little weak, the way he manipulates everyone, even those loyal to him, commands some thunder out of his presence. Plus, the way he's been kept out of sight for the past few movies only adds to the drama of his big reveal. Escapes after his operation is foiled.  4 out of 5.

Other Henchmen: Mr. Osato (Teru Shimada), head of the Osato chemical concern and an accomplice of Blofeld, shot by Blofeld; Helga Brandt (Karin Dor), assassin and the number 11 executive of SPECTRE, dropped into a piranha pond by Blofeld; and Hans (Ronald Rich), Blofeld's bodyguard and a Red Grant expy, thrown into the same piranha pond by Bond. A forgettable roundup. Not helping is the fact that Brandt and Hans are ripoffs of other characters (respectively, Red Grant and Fiona Volpe), and that Hans, in particular, is given very little to do. 2 out of 5.

The Gadgets: Not much in the way of gadgets. The most notable one is a miniature rocket launcher hidden in a cigarette, supplied by Tanaka's ninja team. As for vehicles, Aki drives a white Toyota 2000GT convertible, equipped with a closed-circut TV link to Tanaka.  Fun Fact: The car was originally sold only as a hard-top coupe, but since the 6-foot-2 Sean Connery could not fit comfortably inside, they modified it for the film to be roofless.  Not to be outdone, Q provides Bond with "Little Nellie", a personal helicopter armed with rockets, mines, and more. 3 out of 5.

The Locations: This film takes place almost entirely in one country, Japan, with the exception of the opening scenes in Hong Kong. Fun Fact: This is the only Bond film not to have any scenes set within the United Kingdom, unless you were to count their then-terrirory of Hong Kong. Second Fun Fact: The Little Nellie scene had to be filmed in Spain; it was originally set over a national park in Japan, but local authorities did not take kindly to stuff blowing up overhead.

The Opening Sequence: A boring intro that uses three elements: footage of volcanoes erupting in the background, and silhouettes of geishas and these spiderweb/satellite things in the foreground. 1 out of 5.
The Theme Song: Sung by Nancy Sinatra. It makes the opening credits even more boring, but at least the lyrics give you something to ponder: "You only live twice / or so it seems / one life for yourself / and one for your dreams". The very words I live by. 3 out of 5.

The Novel: This was the first Bond movie to noticeably differ from its source novel, thanks to replacement writer Roald Dahl (of all people). The book, which takes place after On Her Majesty's Secret Service, starts with Bond taking a cushy diplomatic job in Tokyo to recover his mental health after the death of his wife. Things get complicated when he discovers that Blofeld is living somewhere in the country, running a castle and garden filled with poisonous plants and animals. Tanaka helps Bond prepare a one-man ninja raid on the castle, where he kills Blofeld and his wife, but falls on the way out and suffers amnesia. Dahl was highly critical of the book, claiming it was a travelogue "with no plot in it which would even make a movie", thus prompting him to do a total rewrite.

The Plot: An American spacecraft mysteriously disappears from radar mid-flight, and Pentagon officials blame the Soviets for its disappearance. The British, however, are convinced a third party is involved. Cut to Bond, getting some sexy R&R in Hong Kong, when he suddenly gets shot up by two gunmen and is killed. Cue opening credits. Turns out Bond wasn't really killed; it was a publicity stunt organised by MI6 to give him some cover for his next mission: investigate leads relating to the rocket theft in Japan. In Tokyo, Bond makes contact with SIS agent Aki and expat Richard Henderson. Henderson suggests a third party is involved in the rocket theft, but is killed before divulging anything useful. Bond takes down his assassin, steals his identity, and hitches a ride to the Osato corporation's office. He steals some files and gets a ride out with Aki, who leads him into a trap. At the other end is her boss, "Tiger" Tanaka, and together they analyse the files, which include a photo of a shipping vessel, the Ning-Po.

The next day, Bond returns to the office and visits Mr. Osato in person, posing as an industrial buyer. From there, he and Aki drive to Kobe and investigate the Ning-Po, but Bond gets captured. He makes a deal with his captor, Helga Brandt, but on their flight out, she reneges and bails out, leaving Bond to crash-land the plane. He then heads for Tanaka's villa, where they deduce that SPECTRE could be involved in the orbital affairs. Once they identify the next place where the Ning-Po docked, he travels there on the Little Nellie, a miniature helicopter supplied by Q, and fights off some SPECTRE helicopters guarding the place. That night, a Soviet-manned space flight is captured in the same manner as before, worsening tensions between Moscow and Washington. Back in Japan, Tanaka and Bond prepare to assault SPECTRE's base with an assault team of ninjas. Aki is poisoned and killed by an assassin gunning for Bond, but he continues training and assumes a false identity in an Ama village near the base, complete with a cover marriage to Kissy Suzuki, a local pearl-diver. During a fishing excursion, Bond and Kissy slip away to investigate a suspicious dormant volcano; they discover it to be the location of SPECTRE's base. While Kissy leaves to contact Tanaka, Bond goes in alone.

Bond rescues some of the captured astronauts and takes one of their place in piloting a craft that would steal a second American rocket and precipitate nuclear war between the USA and USSR. But he commits a faux-pas, is caught, identified, and brought to meet Blofeld face-to-face. After receiving an overview of Blofeld's plan, he creates a diversion with one of his rocket cigarettes, enabling Tanaka's team to drop in from the fake crater. Heading out to his escape route, Blofeld shoots Osato for his failures, and tries to shoot Bond but is stopped by Tanaka. Remembering a self-descruct button in the control room he came from, Bond doubles back that way, taking down Blofeld's bodyguard Hans along the way. Successfully blowing up the SPECTRE spacecraft before it can capture the American flight, the Pentagon calls off its attack plan. But before Bond and co. can celebrate, Blofeld triggers the self-destruct sequence to the base itself. Bond, Tanaka, Kissy, and their team escape through a cave to the ocean, where they are greeted by some liferafts -- and an MI6 submarine, intent on crashing Bond and Kissy's "honeymoon". You are now free to turn off your TV.

In essentially re-writing the plot instead of basing it off of Ian Fleming's original novel, Roald Dahl may have borrowed a few pages from other Bond adventures, but he took some of the best pages. There's a reason the idea of getting two superpowers to fight and take down one another has been used so often throughout the franchise: it works. It serves as a politically-based source of tension without being overly complicated, and it makes you think about whether or not we as a people really want war. As for how it was executed this time around, it was implied in one scene that SPECTRE was engineering this conflict because they had been paid off by China, but I wish they had expanded on that plot thread. While YOLT lacks the well-developed intricacies of From Russia With Love, it makes up for that in the production design, not the least example being Blofeld's hollowed-out volcano base. YOLT could be described as a more typical action movie in some parts (you won't see a countdown close-shave in FRWL, for example), but that only helps make it more fun to watch. I just hope it helps you better appreciate entries like FRWL or the 2006 Casino Royale. 4 out of 5.

The Call: 75% (B-)

IchigoRyu will return in
On Her Majesty's Secret Service

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