Bond Breakdown #05: You Only Live Twice (1967)

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You Only Live Twice (1967): Bond Breakdown by Rantbo

After the hijacking of an American spacecraft (and soon after, a Soviet one), representatives from the U.S.A. and the U.S.S.R. gather for a rousting few rounds of the Blame Game. But while the State Reps and the Soviet Reps spent their trip to Florida exercising their pointer fingers, MI:6 was busy collecting intelligence, (a course of action that escaped those quarrelsome yanks and reds). So, amidst the fighting, the United Kingdom reps share a possible lead that the abducting spacecraft has landed in Japan and is being controlled by an unknown, third-party foreign government. Also, those ever-efficient Brits have already dispatched their top man to the orient: Bond. And he has his biggest mission yet:  Expose the true culprits and prevent the Cold War from thawing.


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Maurice Binder returns for his third time as the title designer and in my opinion, it’s his 2nd weakest entry.  Stock footage of liquid-hot-magma flows behind several good looking Asian models, to arguably the most lack-luster Bond song in the series: You Only Live Twice by Nancy Sinatra.  The melody of the song is fine and works well throughout the movie, but using it for the title song seemed ill-conceived and just plain wrong.

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The song is too easy-going and lovey-dovey for such an action-centric Bond entry. This film deserved something much more up-tempo and “George Thorogoodie”, (yes I know he was like 15 and did not have a recording contract, but I think you know what I mean). There isn’t much more to say about the credits for this one, they are pretty forgettable and not worth really going on about.  Oh, it does have a very nice dissolve back to the film though. There—something positive.


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Body Bags Filled [20] Bedpost Notches [2 For Certain, 1 Attempted, 1 More Interrupted]

With this, his 5th consecutive film in the series, it started to become clear that Connery wasn’t playing Bond with the previous two film’s zest of cheeky energy. A lot of people attribute this to his gradual distaste with stardom, which, while a factor (more on that in a bit), I don’t think was the main issue.

With THUNDERBALL breaking records like crazy and Bond-Mania at it’s peak, YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE was tailored to be more grandiose than ever, meaning an action and gadget extravaganza. This of course, left less and less time for intimate story arcs and it’s where the films begin to suffer. I think Connery took this pretty hard. The entry is still a blast, but I would have had just as much fun watching Bond solve a mystery about missing stop signs around his neighborhood. Point being, I really wouldn’t have cared what Bond did, so long as it was well written and Sean was allowed to run with it. And I think Connery felt much the same. His character and performances are that endearing to me. Connery’s still good, don’t get me wrong, but he doesn’t get to be great. There’s just too much god damn Action… Which, is still awesome!—I’m so conflicted.

Back to the catalyst of the actor’s disdain: Connery, now an international superstar, became frustrated and annoyed at his notoriety. The camera flash that broke the camel’s back came when Connery was photographed through a window of a public bathroom. He reportedly, and understandably, lost his shit.  Leading Connery to state to the press that this would be his last turn as Bond, mid-way through the shoot (though, NEVER SAY NEVER!). Understandably, this came as quite a blow to the fans, especially considering the circumstances. But Sean had an amazing run, overall with 5 great straight and I’d even go so far as to say that he had the best of them all. Connery of course came back years later, but it was never the same. And I did say NEVER—deal with it. As a Bond fan you have to. It’s the cold hard reality that Connery was so good at making us forget. His portrayal of James Bond is an escapist fan’s dream, but the Golden Age of Bond is officially closed. Thankfully, the action, misogyny and post-mortem one-liners trudged on…


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Teru Shimada is Mr. Osato

Osato is granted the honor of meeting James mid-way through the film, and is unique in being able to see right through Bond’s cover, (his x-ray desk helps) and in his observance, plans numerous attempts to have 007 assassinated. Too bad for Osato he sucks at it, eventually leading Blofeld to butcher his ass for a job not done. Alone he is confident and commands the room, but deep down he is just a big coward with a mundane mustache. Much like the Bond Girls in this film, Osato is just kinda—there. Shimada does a great job and the character serves his purpose, running a chemical engineering plant in league with SPECTRE and being a generally creepy corporate sleaze-bag, but like so many others, got sidelined by the spectacle.

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Karin Dor is Helga Brandt a.k.a. Number 11

By far the goofiest and most unnecessary addition to the original story.  This broad didn’t make the SPECTRE Top Ten for a reason. She first appears as Osato’s assistant, but turns out to be his personal assassin. With her fiery red hair, icy cold demeanor and accentuated rack, she is a straight up Fiona-Wanna-Be. A bad choice I think, as that character was done perfectly in the previous installment. And it gets worse…

After a thrilling fight and chase sequence, Bond is beaten and delivered to this minx for a little informational torture time. Helga threatens James with facial mutilation, but awkwardly she allows herself to be seduced by him. As it turns out, she was faking, (just like Fiona…) and for nothing more than to lead into an unbelievably stupid and unnecessarily elaborate death trap. Helga proceeds to trick Bond into getting on an airplane, which she jumps out of, mid-flight, leaving Bond trapped without a pilot. Thrilling and action packed though this is, it becomes almost completely un-enjoyable as it makes no sense whatsoever. Why didn’t she just torture him, get his info and finish him off back on the ground!? I don’t understand this. I guess that wouldn’t have been BIG enough.  At any rate, Bond lives, Brandt doesn’t get anything out of him and she dies for her failures via flesh-eating fish.

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Ronald Rich is Hans

A perfect name for a blonde haired ape-man. The trend of this Henchman is continued from Red in FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE and makes many further appearances in future installments. He doesn’t say much, but that’s not what he’s paid for. Hans could very well have been the one to finally bring down Bond, but unfortunately for him, 007 was trained for a day or two to be a ninja. So James outmaneuvers the big lug and judo flips him into a piranha pool. Too bad, as he could have made it big in the Wrestling world. But, it serves him right for daring to place his banana hands on Bond.

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Donald Pleasence is Ernst Stavro Blofeld a.k.a. Number 1

Everyone’s favorite Blofeld—is not mine. But he’s still pretty excellent. Donald Pleasence plays the first full performance of the man behind the curtain. Head of SPECTRE, he is carrying out his most diabolical scheme yet. With a face only a Mother could love, Blofeld is a sight to behold—from a safe distance. Even though he spends 90% of the film sitting back, face hidden, fingering his cat, he is easily the most memorable of all the actors to play the role. YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE is unique in that it is the first Bond film where the main villain gets away in the end. And aside from having his operation spoiled by 007, it’s punishment free.

Pleasence’s portrayal is spot on. His eerily calm monologues echo the previous portrayals of the character, while his gestures and facial mannerisms make the role his own.  The payoff of seeing Blofeld for the first time in full didn’t disappoint. And it lead to one of the most copied criminal archetypes, be it Dr. Evil or Dr. Claw, this performance became iconic and rightfully so, it makes the absolute most of a very small role.


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Tsai Chin is Ling

The aforementioned “Interrupted Lay”, Ling makes her appearance during the pre-credits sequence, hopping out of bed moments before Bond can seal the deal. She then walks across the room and presses a button retracting their wallbed with James on it! If that’s not rude enough, this cooze lets in two extras from a John Woo picture to riddle the bed with bullets. The sequence ends as a team of agents find Bond’s bloody body stuck within the bedchamber and pronounce him dead. Ass.

OK, so it turns out she was just working under orders from MI:6 as part of Bond’s cover, so I take back calling her a cooze. However, this doesn’t erase the fact that she is still a cocktease with a goofy voice—I calls ‘um like I sees ‘um. Apparently she is a fellow agent, but that’s all the insight we get with her character as she is only in the film for about 2 minutes, and this is probably the most anyone has ever bothered to write about her in a review. I end with a not so interesting tid-bit: Tsai Chin later appears as Madame Wu in CASINO ROYALE (2006). How about that?

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Akiko Wakabayashi is Aki

What can I say about Aki that hasn’t already been said about actor Dudley Moore? She’s short, she’s cute and nobody remembers her. She is probably the most forgettable main Bond Girl in the entire series. But, it isn’t her fault. In order to shoot at the places and in the volume that the filmmakers wanted to in Japan, the officials there requested (demanded) that the lead girls be played by local actresses. A fine idea for authenticity’s sake, but a logistical nightmare as none of the girls that auditioned spoke English.

Despite the set-back of language barriers, two girls were chosen and to her credit Akiko learned a good deal of English in a short period of time, but was still given very little to say. It doesn’t really hurt her performance, but she comes off as really one-dimensional (odd for a Bond Girl, I know). And due to the limited dialogue and the shadowy mystique of her organization, you never get to find out much about her. And the fact that they kill her off just before the third act compounds this. In my opinion, the least they could have done for her character is let her ride the film out. Like I said, it’s unfortunate, but I still liked her. With her killer smile and gosh-golly adorable accent, it would be hard not to. Plus, Aki drives one hell of a Toyota 2000GT convertible. And looks good doing it.

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Mie Hama as Kissy Suzuki

Originally cast in the role of Aki, she was unable to get her English lines down in time and director Lewis Gilbert arranged to have her taken out to dinner and apologetically let go. ‘Thing is, she literally threatened to kill herself from the shame… Emotional blackmail at its finest, ladies and gentlemen. So, something was worked out. Akiko was given the lead Bond Girl role and they kept Mie to take over the role of Kissy. All this really means to the audience is an obvious dub, but since every Bond film up till this point had had at least one of these, it made little difference. This is a Bond film after all, so I had little trouble suspending disbelief.

That said, I didn’t like her. Though the issue I have wasn’t with her performance, I thought she was fine and dandy, it’s is all in the written character. Coming in to replace the female lead position after two-thirds of the film was over, left little to no time to get to know her and subsequently give a shit about what she is doing or why. Kissy’s role in the story has to do with a fake marriage to Bond-san, (something I’ll rant about later), but what she ends up being is replacement T&A left blank by Aki’s unnecessary demise. By the time Kissy arrives, the action is in such full swing that the viewer isn’t given any time to appreciate her and subsequently, she ends up just becoming part of the scenery. Which, overall, just ends up making her seem like a complete waste of time, energy and emotional drama. Not to mention that when Bond finally convinces her to consummate the marriage, MI:6’s sub rises below their escape raft and successfully cock-blocks Bond from another lay. Bollocks.


As Action takes center stage, so does one of my favorite gadget/vehicles…

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The Wallis WA-116 Series 1 Gyroplane [CODENAME: Little Nellie]

This real life aerial wonder receives a Q-Lab makeover and gets outfitted with more artillery than 10 Aston Martins…

– Two Machine Guns, Fixed and Synchronized to 100 yards
– Two Rocket Launchers, Forward Firing on Either Side
– Two Heat Seeking Air-To-Air Missiles
– Two Flame Guns, Range of 80 yards
– Two Rear-Mounted Smoke Ejectors
– A Shitload of Aerial Mines

And a partridge in a flaming helicopter rotor! This machine is a marvel and lends itself to one hellova aerial chase sequence. Bond makes good use of Q’s modifications as he battles his pursuers hundreds of feet above Japan’s native volcanoes. It’s a thrilling sequence and watching ALL of the gadgets get unloaded on four enemy aircrafts is a—dare I say—Blast?

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Bond also receives a nifty case of Cigarette Rockets, courtesy of Japanese Super-Spy Tiger Tanaka’s Modern Ninja Technicians. Yup, exploding ninja death-sticks. Surgeon General’s Warning: may cause copious amounts of blood and tissue damage, large gaping craters of flesh and low birth weight.


The Body Count [85+]

Much like the last installment, + 20 or so corpses to grow on. Connery’s Bond gets his largest overall count with 21 confirmed kills. Which you can view, HERE. Six kills, other than Bond’s occur before the third act, by way of a stabbing, four by way of a helicopter car-drop into the ocean and one by floating off to die in the cold vastness of space. As for the rest, it all goes down in the Volcano Crater finale, where another 60 or so are shot, chopped, exploded and ninjutsued. Solidifying that every 80s action film owes a ‘special thanks’ credit to this movie.

The Best Fight

Disguising himself as one of his many would-be dispatchers, Bond sneaks his way into his assassin’s getaway vehicle. Taken back to Osato’s office building, Bond reveals himself to the driver, but it appears as though Bond spent his ride over planning his cheeky introduction and not on contemplating the possibility of the Driver being a skilled sumo-esque fighter. And the game is on.

Bond uses everything he can get his hands on to even the fight, including, but not limited to, one of the office’s couches.

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The brawl is quite thrilling and clearly intended to be the next evolution of the pre-credits battle from THUNDERBALL, with it’s many flips, kicks and complete disregard for Osaka’s personal belongings. Ending most spectacularly with a concussion causing feng shui * blow by Bond to the Driver’s thick skull with an equally thick piece of décor.

The Most Satisfying Kill

Fio-Ahem, Helga. As I mentioned before, I’m not fond of this cloned character, so getting to watch her die in a most gruesome fashion: eaten alive by piranha fish…

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…was easily the best (read as only good) part of her role.


Best Witticism:

[After tossing Hans into Blofeld’s piranha pool]
Bond: Bon appétit.

Best Double Entendre

Tiger: My friend, now you take your first civilized bath.
Bond: Really?

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Bond: Well—I like the plumbing.

The runner-up belonging to a couple of randos…

[After finding Bond’s naked body, stowed in a wallbed]
British Officer #1: Well, at least he died on the job.
British Officer #2: He’d have wanted it this way.


OK, there are four things I feel I need to address, in three parts. The first two: Asian Bond and the Faux Wedding. I’ve seen this Bond several times, and I still don’t understand why the hell he goes through with this nonsense.

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In order to fool—I’m guessing SPECTRE, Bond gets himself outfitted with some Asian-esqe make-up enhancements. You know, to “blend” in.

To begin with, why must Bond be hiding as he has already escaped capture? It’s foolish. On top of this, his “disguise” couldn’t fool Zatôichi. Bond is at LEAST a foot taller than anyone else in the country and “hides” it by slouching. Not to mention, prosthetics in place, Connery looks like a 6 foot oompa-loompa with chronic back pain or at the very least a doped-up Nicolas Cage, minus all self-confidence. The worst thing about all this, is literally the next scene after receiving the procedure, Bond is almost killed by an assassin. It couldn’t even fool a man that had never seen him before, a couple hours after undergoing the process! But does this dissuade him from carrying on with the charade? Hell no. Is that wedding bells I hear? In an act to further “disguise” himself from—whomever, Tanaka (Bond’s contact in Japan) decides to have Bond get hitched to a local diver girl.

While the pace of this entry is like greased owl shit, this sequence grinds it to a halt. It’s torture. It’s unnecessary for him to hide and it introduces an unnecessary character. Oh, and I thought American weddings were tedious and tacky… Groan, the idea of Bond agreeing to play dress up and house goes against everything characteristically attributed to 007. Bond is a cocky, arrogant, egocentric ladies man. He would not be caught dead being involved in any of this humbug, even if he gets to “LIVE TWICE”.

Alright, allow me to back up here and discuss an aforementioned agent: Tetsuro Tamba is “Tiger” Tanaka…

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Without a doubt, THE coolest part of the movie. First—his name is Tiger. Second, “His identity is the most closely guarded secret in Japan.” Third, he has a legion of hot washer women that he keeps in check with ancient misogynistic rules:

1. Never do anything for yourself, when someone else (a woman) can do it for you.
2. In Japan, men always come first, women come second.

Fourth, Tanaka has a bitchin pad. A gorgeous sea side villa with a meticulously kept landscape, spacious interior and lovely Asian décor. Did I mention he has a bunch of hot masseuses walking around, ready and able to please whomever Tiger commands?  Because he does. It’s like the Japanese equivalent to the Playboy Mansion.

Finally, Tiger is head of the Japanese secret service AND as such, runs a secret Ninja training compound. He’s essentially a Japanese Bond, mixed with Hugh Hefner and Bruce Lee. Tamba plays the role with such brazing confidence and swagger he gives Bond a run for his money and I would honestly watch a series of films based on this character alone. He’s GrrrrrEight!

Lastly, I simply must mention that this film gave birth to Epic Action. With its extremely fast pace and few progressive character scenes, this film is at the finale in no time. And what a ride it is. The perfect culmination of suspense and wonder packed into a fantastic tight-nit action extravaganza. As THE WILD BUNCH came two years later, I consider YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE to be the first epic shootout sequence of modern action, and man does it kick ass. It truly has it all:

– Extravagant Production Design? ✔
–  60+ Stuntmen? ✔
– A Crucial Plot Countdown? ✔
– Bullets, Blades and Blofeld’s Cat? ✔
– Henchmen, Ninjas, Mini-Tramps and Explosions? ✔✔✔✔

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This sequence, combined with the rest an already insanely action-packed movie, blows the top off the proverbial cinematic volcano. I never would have thought that an action movie made in the 60s and written by Roald “Charlie And The Chocolate Factory” Dahl could have been such an event to watch. He did however pen, THE B.F.G., which I believe was later adapted into DOOM… So, I guess I shouldn’t underestimate the man’s ability to deliver the badass.

As I mentioned above, I criticized this movie for it’s lack of character development, but at the same time, I’m almost glad. It’s fun to watch a mostly mindless action film once in a while (daily is OK by me) and even though it probably added to Connery’s reasons for leaving, I’m still glad that YOLT is the way that it is. Plus, it’s always good to shake things up once and awhile. And with Sean gone, the next installment was forced to do so. Connery’s Bond will however live twice more after this, even if the series was better off having moved on.  More on both of those topics next time.


[X] Destroys Evil Doer’s Lair
[X] Drinks or Orders a Vesper Martini
[X] Gets Captured and/or Tortured
[  ] Introduces Himself As “Bond—James, Bond”
[  ] Teams-Up With Felix Leiter
[X] Uses Judo or a Walther PPK to Dispose of an Enemy
[  ] Wears a Tux

*Yes, I know Feng shui is a Chinese art form, not Japanese.

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Bond: I might just retire to here…

RANTBO will return in (a breakdown of) ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE

You Only Live Twice (1967) © MCMLXVII by Danjaq S.A., United Artists and MGM/UA Home Entertainment