You Only Live Twice (1967)



"James Bond. Allow me to introduce myself. I am Ernst Stavro Blofeld. They told me you were assassinated in Hong Kong.""James Bond. Allow me to introduce myself. I am Ernst Stavro Blofeld. They told me you were assassinated in Hong Kong."

“James Bond. Allow me to introduce myself. I am Ernst Stavro Blofeld. They told me you were assassinated in Hong Kong.”


With You Only Live Twice, the next James Bond film released, MGM is batting 1000 with their adaptations of the popular novels written by author Ian Fleming. The novel is the 11th Fleming put out and the fifth to be adapted. While the first four have been truer adaptations, You Only Live Twice represents a change in direction – being loosely based on Fleming’s work and not being a true adaptation while only using certain characters and location with an original story behind it. Legacy screenwriter Richard Maibaum, who wrote the previous four installments doesn’t return here and the change in styles is noticeable. 

At least Sean Connery, who has played the titular fictional MI6 agent James Bond is back to keep some semblance of normalcy with his return. By now, in his 5th performance as Bond, Connery can carry a weaker screenplay on his back and still garnish a positive result. With Connery comes a sense of comfortability with the role, bringing his signature stylish ensemble, charm, handsome good looks, and charisma that he’s established since Dr. No.  All that said, everything surrounding Connery doesn’t quite reach the level he’s on despite solid efforts. 


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You Only Live Twice, though fictionalized, mirrors the cold war, as many of the early films do, acting as the space race that was currently going on in 1967 but giving that supervillain touch to it. The implications are there for interpretation – the villain of this film that has been a puppet master for the previous 4 films, Ernst Stavro Blofeld (Donald Pleasence), the man behind the curtain, an Oz level character who strokes his furry companion while remaining ominous can be compared to those of historical significance. The characters in You Only Live Twice as well as the films in this franchise are the exact inspirations for the modern-day parody that is Austin Powers

Only with Austin Powers, the reveal of Dr. Evil is more substantial. When Blofeld is finally revealed in the film’s final act, its underwhelming and anti-climactic. It’s as if screenwriter Ronald Dahl shoehorned this moment into the film. This is the head of SPECTRE, Number 1, the most maniacal villain in this universe, and Pleasence certainly fits the role well,  he deserved a better entrance for the caliber of villain he was made out to be. Removing that mysterious figment of imagination that has been built for this character doesn’t have the same effect that the previous villains have had. Yes, they were introduced in different ways but each villain up to this point has had a significant impact on their respective stories.

As we have seen before, there is a formulaic way of bringing a Bond story together. It continues here. Bond (Sean Connery) fakes his death to be under the radar to go about his mission more freely, given to him by M (Bernard Lee). Bond playfully flirts with Moneypenny (Lois Maxwell) before getting new top of the line tech gadgets that pushes technology into the next century by Q (Desmond Llewelyn). After that Bond is on his own, in an exotic location, this time Tokyo where he meets the next Bond girl Kissy Suzuki (Mie Hama) whom Bond marries while undercover to blend in. 

What makes these early films the best the franchise has to offer is the relationships between the characters. That is sorely missed here, especially between Bond and Blofeld. Again, being fully introduced in the final act of the film (possibly the final 15 minutes) we don’t get the back-and-forth Bond had with previous villains. Bond would be intellectually and physically the rival of the past villains but Blofeld being the head of SPECTRE cannot be bothered to be that type of character. He isn’t given enough time to be developed to the point where we can form a connection to him. Perhaps, since he isn’t dead and escaped his volcanic lair after being self destructed, he will have more of a role later on. 


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The same type of relationship that has been the foundation for these films is missing between Bond and the “Bond girl”. Kissy Suzuki, capable in her own right as a strong character doesn’t have that same authenticity previous Bond girls were given. Mie Hama does the best she possibly could but it all boils down to the writing and having a weaker script that focuses on the grandioso spectacle rather than the nuance. Beyond the staple cast that has been here since the beginning, newer characters don’t have that connective tissue that can attract an emotional connection. 

It’s clear these early films are successful – with each installment the budget increases with an even larger box office gain making the choice simple to keep cranking these out every 1-2 years. 

Looking at these early Bond films is difficult with a modern world point of view. There is obvious misogyny with how Bond views women and how women are written to be sexualized objects for the main character. That being said, removing that sense in your brain and remembering how different the times were when these films were made, those issues would have never been touched upon. That perspective aside, You Only Live Twice like the previous 4 films are possibly the best the franchise has to offer and serve as the foundation for future films with Connery as the quintessential Bond to be mirrored from. 

Though the weakest film so far in this budding franchise, Connery, the signature score and theme music, the exotic locations and cars, the gadgets, and spectacle are enough for this film to be revisited and looked at as a steppingstone for films to come. It’s more about the mission and stopping SPECTRE from destroying the world than it is about character and story development, at least in this film. 

You Only Live Twice is written by Ronald Dahl & Harold Jack Bloom, directed by Lewis Gilbert is Rated PG and has a 73% on Rotten Tomatoes. You Only Live Twice was released on June 13, 1967 in the United Kingdom and in the United States and has a runtime of 1 hour and 57 minutes. You Only Live Twice can be bought from online retailers like iTunes, Amazon, and Google.  3.5 out of 5.


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