Tuesday, April 12, 2011

You Only Live Twice (1967)




Welcome to your briefing 007. Your mission: You Only Live Twice. First, you must fake your death so that there is less pressure on your task against SPECTRE. Something fishy is happening in space 007. American and Russian spacecrafts are being captured by a mysterious craft which appears to be originating somewhere near Japan. Now that it is thought that you are dead James, go investigate what is going on, but quick. The Russians and Americans are on the brink of World War III.

The Beginning: The are actually two pre-title sequence scenes this time. The film opens in space of all places! Far out! We see an American Jupiter craft being abducted by a mystery craft, and an astronaut dies in the process while on a spacewalk. And so the mystery of the film begins. Then we cut to Bond in Hong Kong, doing his thing with some Asian chick. Again we are spun for a loop. Like in Goldfinger the girl betrays him and has an assassin come and try to kill him. And also like in From Russia With Love Bond is seen being killed, only this time it looks like it is for real, no man wearing a mask. Dun dun dun…. Cut to Nancy Sinatra singing the title track “You Only Live Twice”, which fares a good deal better than “Thunderball”. Still not as good as “Goldfinger” and probably somewhat forgettable, but a decent song nonetheless. The credits sequence is nifty once again, making use of the beautiful Asian theme.

Locations: Hong Kong, Tokyo, Space!

Allies:
M: We meet M in the field this time, in a submarine of all places. It is here that we learn that this branch of the British military belongs to the Navy. M is dressed up in his naval uniforms, as is Monypenny, and we also learn at this time that Bond is the rank of Commander.

Mr. Henderson: Henderson is Bond’s contact in Tokyo. He has lived there for some time and has a good knowledge of the goings on in the area, but just as he is filling Bond in on the information he needs, Henderson gets a knife in the back. An unfortunate event, but this leads Bond to finding out more about who is behind the strange activities in space.

Tiger Tanaka: Tanaka is a local too, but has the resources to help Bond. He has an awesome personal underground train and a ninja school! But this ninja school is not like any other, it is modern and involved soldiers learning the art of blow your f-ing head off with these sweet guns in addition to being super sneaky undetectable and using ninja stars and swords. Tanaka is also the man who sets Bond up on the mysterious island between Tokyo and China. He hooks him up with a wife, yes, a wife, and all the necessary surgery to make Bond Asian.

Enemies:
Mr. Osato: Osato is a chemical engineer who is in league with the bad guys, supplying them with the necessary chemicals to create fuel for spaceships. He has his office in Tokyo and we see his strictness a few times when James is a visitor. He has an x-ray machine in his desk as well as hired assassins out to kill Bond.

Ernst Stavro Blofeld: Finally we meet #1. Blofeld is the head of the criminal group SPECTRE. We do not see him until near the end of the film, but he lives up to the wickedness that has proceeded him. He sports a nasty scar on his eye and feeds his enemies, and some of his allies who have failed him, to his tank of piranha that can eat a man to the bone in 30 seconds. Sadly in the end it appears that Blofeld escapes, but his plan ultimately is thwarted by our man Bond.

Q Branch: Q pulls out all of the stops in this one as he makes another field outfitting. He brings “Little Nellie” with him this time, a mini helicopter that can be neatly packed into about three suitcases. But this is no ordinary helicopter. It is complete with machine guns, aerial mines, air to air missiles and heat seeking missiles. The real deal, and of course it all comes into use by Bond.

The Girls:
Aki: Aki is a Japanese agent who comes to the aid of Bond on a number of occasions. Sometimes it appears as though she has outsmarted Bond, like when she takes him to see Tanaka. She is one cool cat who knows how to hold her own. She is also quite pretty and this does not go unnoticed by Bond as he inevitably beds her.

Kissy Suzuki: Kissy is Bond’s wife, yes, I said wife again. She is married to him in an attempt to make Bond blend in even more on the island and it is done for the sole purpose of that. At first she puts up a good resistance to Bond’s charm and manages to keep him off of her, but in the end, the charm is too much. But I guess they were married, so technically there is nothing really to say here other than a gentleman and his wife doing what they can do rightfully. She kind of acts as Aki’s replacement once he is on the island. I prefer Aki because she rocks, but Kissy is not a bad character either, just not as developed.

Helga Brandt: Brandt is the bad girl here and once again the bad girl comes off pretty good. She is the secretary of Mr. Ostato, but is also #11 in SPECTRE whose mission it is to see that Osato is doing what he should be and to assassinate 007. Her character does not run very deep, as Blofeld is the true villain, but she is a nice addition nonetheless. Her key scene in the film comes just when Bond believes he has turned her to the good side as they are flying to Tokyo. She traps him and jumps out of the plane, leaving Bond just enough time to save himself with a crash landing. Her resolve is admirable, even if it was for the bad guys.

The Car & the Chase: In this case, the car is a Toyota convertible, but it belongs to ally Aki and she is the driver. The chase is a neat little romp through Tokyo as Aki always seems to be in the right place at the right time to save Bond. It concludes with the chaser car being airlifted out on a huge magnet dangling from a huge helicopter. The helicopter takes it over the ocean and drops it right in in what appears to be a pretty impressive real special effect. There is also a helicopter chase involving Little Nellie. Bond gets chased by four enemy helicopters which he must dispatch using all of his neat countermeasures and weapons on Nellie.

Mission Debriefing: You Only Live Twice is a unique entry in the Bond series to this point mainly because of it’s location, but a lot changed on this film too. The setting goes east, far east, for the first time and it just really works. Honestly, the Caribbean can get boring to me, so to get to see some new culture, new landscape, new music, was a great experience. The Japanese are a very interesting people and I think the film capture the terrain, fashion, and overall culture fairly well, at least for someone looking for something a little bit different.

But the setting was not the only thing that changed here, we have our third director of the series in Lewis Gilbert. The great Ken Adam remains with his stellar production design, but the key addition in my eyes was director of photography Freddie Young replacing Ted Moore. Moore is a fine cinematographer and did some nice things with the first four Bond films, but in this one Young just does so much more interesting with the camera. Gilbert too for that matter creates a positive influence on the vision of the series. There are a few scenes in particular that make me say this. The rooftop chase at the docks in particular was great to watch. There also some great scenery scenes of the island that I wish I could show you guys right now.

As for the plot and pacing of the film I though they were good, but not great. The space part of the film was cool. It was something that was going on at the time and something the series had yet to cover so at this point it is unique. There were some good characters here too. Aki in particular I liked, but Tanaka was cool too and we do finally meet Blofeld, even if the performance by Donald Pleasance is a bit over the top, especially with his eyes, it is still fun to watch and neat to finally meet the character. Plus he escapes, leaving open the possibility that we will see him again in the near future?

There were some things I did not like, some that for whatever reason just did not work for me. I did not particularly like the character of Kissy, not because of who she was, but because I felt her character to be somewhat unnecessary and would have preferred to continue to spend time with Aki. But the positives far outweigh the negatives in this installment. You Only Live Twice is a fine addition to the Bond series and is somewhat of a promising turn after Thunderball. Sadly, after the release of this film, Sean Connery announced that he was done with the series. So who will be the next Bond! Stay tuned to find out.

Next up: On Her Majesty’s Secret Service

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