You Only Live Twice, released in 1967, marks a few firsts in the Bond franchise. First Bond not written by screenwriter Richard Maibaum. First Bond directed by Lewis Gilbert, who would return later for two Roger Moore entries. First Bond where we finally see SPECTRE head Blofeld. First Bond film not to be released after only a year – 007 fans had to wait an entire year and a half for this entry.
It also marked what audiences believed would be an extremely substantial last. During filming, Sean Connery announced that his fifth 007 appearance would be his swan song. Of course, this piqued the interest of filmgoers who wished to see his last 007 performance. Not that You Only Live Twice needed the extra attention. After Goldfinger and Thunderball‘s massive grosses, audiences were more than ready for the next outing.
You Only Live Twice has quite the straightforward premise: SPECTRE steals spacecraft from the U.S. and U.S.S.R. in order make them both believe they’re messing with each other in hopes of starting a global war. This is all, of course, the brain child of Ernst Stavro Blofeld, who we see for the very first time here in full. He’s played by Donald Pleasance, who many of you may know for his later role as the psychiatrist tracking down Michael Myers in Halloween series. Much like with the original villain Dr. No, we don’t actually see Blofeld until quite late in the film. Unlike Dr. No, the character of Blofeld will appear in more than one 007 entry.
The opening sequence shows the American spacecraft hijacking and then moves on to 007 getting killed. What???? Well, we think (not really) that’s what happened until after the opening credits, but it turns out Bond was just faking his death so he could be sent on his mission to Japan without SPECTRE following his every move.
Nearly the entire picture is set in Japan and we get a taste of Japanese culture, 007 style. There’s sumo wrestlers. There’s a school of ninjas that Bond has at his disposal. We even get the appearance of Bond having to go undercover, which means he must looks more Japanese. Of course, this seems to consist only of Bond’s hair being dyed just slightly darker.
Bond’s gadgets this time around include a tricked out helicopter and a cigarette that kills you right away.
It’s hard to watch You Only Live Twice today without chuckling at its clear influence of another British super spy, Mr. Austin Powers. Even more than From Russia with Love, this may be the film that influenced Mike Myers the most. When we do finally see Blofeld, his uniform is the one that inspired Dr. Evil’s and the two share a striking resemblance to one another. Blofeld’s lair happens to be a hollowed out volcano.
Speaking of the hollowed out volcano, my previous posts haven’t done enough justice to Ken Adam’s work as production designer on the Bond films. You may not think of set design immediately when thinking of 007, but the work of Adam has inspired film for 50 years. His sets are amazing, from Fort Knox in Goldfinger to the volcano lair here. Adam would also work with Kubrick in Dr. Strangelove and Barry Lyndon. The guy is a master and he excelled at the great details of making Bond sets look immaculate. The final showdown at the volcano site shows his fine work.
You Only Live Twice is unique because there’s two main Bond girls. For the first half, it’s Aki, a Japanese agent played by Akiko Wakabayashi. She meets a rather unfortunate end when some poison meant for Bond ends up in her mouth instead of 007’s. For the second half, we have Kissy, played by Mie Hama who must act as 007’s wife as part of his cover. The character of Kissy is unique because she manages to actually turn down Bond’s sexual advances, something we don’t see too often. It doesn’t last long though.
Bond fans may remember one particular bit of trivia about this picture: the screenplay is by Roald Dahl! Yes, that Roald Dahl. The children’s author who wrote Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, James and the Giant Peach, and many other classic books.
The theme song “You Only Live Twice” performed by Nancy Sinatra is a very solid one. I must confess that every time I hear it now, though, I think of the Robbie Williams tune “Millenium”, which samples it.
You Only Live Twice is definitely a bit sillier than the previous entries, though isn’t anywhere near as ridiculous as some of the Roger Moore entries would get. It’s also a whole lot of fun and puts to great use the Japanese locales. It had roughly the same budget as Thunderball and the action sequences are highly entertaining, though not quite as astonishing of what we saw in Thunderball.
The picture is certainly an influential Bond flick, even if it’s main influence might have been on the Austin Powers series. It did great business at the box office, though not quite Thunderball numbers. Earning $43 million in the United States (lower than its two predecessors), it placed seventh in 1967’s top grossers. While Connery would claim this would be his finale, it wouldn’t quite turn out that way after all. However, the next Bond adventure would introduce us to the second 007. More on that very soon.
Here are the facts:
Film: You Only Live Twice
U.S. Release Date: June 12, 1967
Director: Lewis Gilbert
Screenplay: Roald Dahl
Bond: Sean Connery
Main Villain: Ernst Stavro Blofeld (Donald Pleasance)
Main Bond Girl (s): Aki (Akiko Wakabayashi) and Kissy (Mie Hama)
Theme Song: “You Only Live Twice” – performed by Nancy Sinatra
Budget: $9.5 million
Worldwide Box Office: $111.6 million
My James Bond blog series will return in “The 007 Files: On Her Majesty’s Secret Service”