You Only Live Twice-1967
Starring-Sean Connery, Akiko Wakabayashi
Scott’s Review #636
Reviewed April 23, 2017
You Only Live Twice is the fifth in the James Bond film series franchise and also the fifth to star iconic Bond, Sean Connery, in the starring role. Reportedly growing bored with the role and eager to move on to meatier acting challenges, Sean Connery is not quite as mesmerizing in the role this time around, but is still indisputably charismatic and sexy with his delivery of one-liners and various affairs with women. You Only Live Twice is the last to feature Connery until he would be coaxed into returning to the role four years later with 1971’s Diamond Are Forever.
The film is not tops on my favorite Bond films of all time nor is it even top ten for that matter, but nonetheless still quite an enjoyable watch, and certainly the Japanese locales are the highlight. The film as a whole suffers from a silly story, dated special effects, and a completely lackluster villain, but it does have Connery to rescue it and a nice little romance between Bond and main girl, Aki, played by Japanese actress, Akiko Wakabayashi- that is until she is unceremoniously poisoned.
The plot involves the hijacking of an American NASA spacecraft by another mystery spacecraft. The Americans suspect the Russians of the action and the British suspect the Japanese since the aircraft landed in the Sea of Japan. MI6 (Bond) fakes his own death in Hong Kong and subsequently begins to investigate who is responsible. His search brings him to Tokyo where he investigates Osato Chemicals and stumbles upon evidence. He is aided by both Aki and Tiger Tanaka, Japanese Secret Service leader. Soon it is revealed that the mastermind is SPECTRE villain, Ernst Stavro Blofeld-in this installment played by Donald Pleasence. Bond must destroy his enemy and inevitably save the world from a global nuclear war.
Though a timely story-line since 1967 was in the midst of the Cold War, the plot seems somewhat forced and a bit uninteresting. The countries blame each other for the hijacked ship, but this comes across as extremely plot driven and secondary. The “swallowing” of the aircraft seems cheesy and preposterous even considering the year that the film was made and the writing is not as rich as some of the proceeding Bond films like From Russia With Love or Thunderball. The film also has an overall “cheap” look to it.
However, the film does have plenty of positives worth mentioning. The gadgets that James Bond fixture, Q (the MI6 technical wizard) creates are state of the art and fun. The mini flying helicopter that Bond uses is creative and allows for even more views to enjoy. Bond faking his death in the opening sequence is a treat (albeit having been done before) and ceremoniously being cast off into the sea in a coffin only to be wearing a suit and an oxygen mask inside the casket is clever and light.
Donald Pleasence, a storied, fantastic actor, is not well cast in the role of main villain Stavros and I am not entirely sure why. The fact that his face is not shown until the last act is not helpful and the character (though seen in other Bond films) is not compelling and is underutilized. I would have liked to have the character be a bit more visible, though surprisingly the character was highly influential in the 1990’s spoof Austin Powers films. Adorable yet creepy is Stavros only being seen clutching and stroking a gorgeous white cat.
As for the Bond women, the aforementioned Aki is the best of the bunch. Gone too soon in the story, she is replaced by Kissy Suzuki, who is rather unappealing. Mostly clad in a skimpy white bikini and heels, and appearing to wear a black wig, the character is forgettable and serves no purpose. Conversely, villainous Helga Brandt, SPECTRE assassin, is very well cast and shares good chemistry with Connery. After an unsuccessful attempt to kill Bond, she is fated with a date with killer piranhas as payment for her failure.
You Only Live Twice has a myriad of ups and downs, but is worth watching for fans of the franchise, and specifically, fans of the classic Bond films featuring Sean Connery. Some will argue that the film feels dated and is chauvinistic, and to some degree they are correct, but the film is a large part of a treasured franchise and a fun experience.