1960s, 3/4, Action, James Bond, Lewis Gilbert, Review

You Only Live Twice

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#10 in my Ranking of the James Bond Franchise.

This movie is a few things just under the surface, and not all of them work. However, the surface is just a solid James Bond adventure. We have all the typical elements and a plot extremely reminiscent of some of the other films, but it’s entertainingly packaged and delivered.

I think one of the keys to the film’s success is that it balances the ridiculousness of its premise well against its tone. Using a relaunchable rocket to swallow up Gemini capsules in space is ridiculous, but it’s presented without irony or tongue in cheek. The design of the ship is simple and somewhat believable while the plot behind it ends up making sense (though sending missiles to destroy the American and Soviet spacecraft might have been a cheaper and faster method for SPECTRE to use).

Bond’s mission is to fake his death (for no other reason than to justify the movie’s title and some vague notion that people won’t be looking for him) and then investigate the splashdown site of the rocket that swallowed up the Gemini craft (really, called Jupiter craft, but they’re Gemini). It’s just off the coast of Japan, so he goes into the country by being fired out of a submarine’s torpedo tube and walking onto the coast. He meets the Japanese secret service contact Tanaka and works with him to meet a British contact who gets quickly offed. Bond uses his super spy skills to put on a jacket and surgical mask so that the Rock’s grandfather can take him up to a swanky office where they will get into a fistfight and Bond will beat him to death with a sofa. Bond then finds evidence that takes them to a small island off the coast of Japan where he gets to use Q’s latest invention, a little helicopter with rockets.

It’s really the village where the movie’s problems pile up right on top of each other. The movie’s a travelogue of Japan to a certain extent, and the village is where the movie pretty much comes to a halt to observe Japanese culture. There’s thin justification for the minutes spent making Bond sort of look Japanese and marry a local woman, but it really should have cut most of it. It’s nice to see how a Buddhist wedding plays out, but it doesn’t really belong at the end of a Bond movie’s second act. It was such a slowdown that my appreciation of the film really started to wane.

And then Bond got to Blofeld’s lair. We’d seen the set before, but I never really appreciated how big and practical it was until Bond showed up and started snooping around. He’s back to doing his job instead of sort of falling in love with a local Japanese women he met five minutes earlier, and his job is to go up against Blofeld.

Blofeld up to this point in the franchise, has been a shadowy figure of little interest. He sat behind a half screen in Thunderball giving ominous directions on extortion but little else. As played by Donald Pleasence in You Only Live Twice, though, Blofeld is far more interesting, though we only end up seeing his face in the final minutes. The performance is creepy and off putting. He’s also smart and willing to do whatever is necessary to win. He is willing to go very large to reach his extortion goals, and that includes capturing American and Soviet spacecraft and provoking a nuclear war from which he will profit. Blofeld here is great.

And the action is really good, too. The huge lair provides a great canvas to build a very large action sequence with dozens of performers. It’s well staged and exciting with clear goals, a clear view of who the two sides are, and the background for the real action which is Bond going after Blofeld.

It’s a solid adventure, and a real step up from the meandering and boring Thunderball.

Rating: 3/4

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