This is the one set in Japan. This is the one Sean Connery called it quits on but came back two films later to do "Diamonds Are Forever," after which he said "never again" and came back to do "Never Say Never Again." This is the one that showed us SPECTRE's number-one man, Ernst Stavro Blofeld (Donald Pleasence), in the flesh for the first time, thereby diminishing his mystique that tiny bit more. This is the one that some connoisseurs consider a high point in the series and others think is a miss. I favor the latter view. This is "You Only Live Twice."
In the opening sequence we see a giant spacecraft gobbling up satellites, causing the world powers some concern. Bond (Connery) is on the job in the Far East, which is thought to be the launching area for the mysterious craft, and he is supposed to track down the culprit. Instead, he gets himself killed! If these two events sound reminiscent of "Thunderball," where atomic weapons were being stolen, and "From Russia With Love," where Bond was also supposedly killed in the pre-title episode, you're right. In fact, "You Only Live Twice," only the fifth installment in the Bond series, was already beginning to seem repetitive and derivational. The opening segment is followed by some nice title credits, though, and a good title song by Leslie Bricusse, sung by Nancy Sinatra. Director Lewis Gilbert may not have had quite the hang of the Bond films here in 1967, but he would improve with experience, coming back a decade later with two of Roger Moore's best outings, "The Spy Who Loved Me" and "Moonraker."
Anyway, following a faked funeral at sea, Bond is recovered from the waters wearing his full Commander's uniform (yes, shades of "Goldfinger"). With newspaper headlines proclaiming his death, Bond is free to investigate the missing satellites more stealthily. With a little help from Tiger Tanaka (Tetsuro Tamba), the head of the Japanese Secret Service, it isn't long before Bond is on to something, namely some mysterious goings on at the Osato Chemical Company, headed up by its president, Mr. Osato (Teru Shimada). Turns out, the company is a front for SPECTRE's latest gambit--trying to start a war between the United States and Russia, hoping the two countries will annihilate each other, with SPECTRE picking up the pieces.
The movie displays much of Japan's natural wonders to good advantage: tranquil gardens and beaches, an active volcano, Sumo wrestlers, Ninjas, diving girls, and Akiko Wakabayashi as Aki and Mie Hama as Kissy Suzuki, a pair of secret agents. There is also a rousing fight between Bond and a Japanese muscleman early on and an exciting dogfight sequence between Bond in a miniature, gadget-laden, high-speed gyrocopter and a whole swarm of villainous helicopters. Connery, of course, is always Connery, the consummate Bond. He's as solid as ever--dashing, debonair, rugged, and unperturbed. I think that in this film and "Thunderball" he looked at his physical best. He had matured into the part without yet growing old. And, as always, he has a few good double entendres to deadpan away, and one lovely sarcasm: "Bon Appetite," he says to a bevy of piranha about to devour a SPECTRE heavy he's just tossed into a pool.
But the plot seems more directionless than most Bond efforts, the emphasis on scenic beauty and stunning set pieces rather than on intrigue or suspense. There are death-defying escapades, naturally, but they appear more contrived than ever, like the villain tying Bond's hands, flying him up in an airplane, and then parachuting out, leaving our hero to figure a way to escape the downward-plummeting plane. But, of course, don't just shoot him. Then, there's a spectacular scene at the end of the film showing the inside of a volcano that is SPECTRE's secret hideout. But the conclusion plays out much as it did in "Dr. No," so again the whole production, start to finish, is quite derivative.
MGM's picture transfer is presented in a reasonably good and very wide 2.21:1 Panavision ratio. The image is a bit dark, however, with a small amount of grain, especially in secondary outdoor photography, and some occasional age specks prominent at the beginning. It's vaguely rough around the ages, too, but colors are rich, luxuriant, and brilliant. Diagonal and horizontal lines are stable, things like Venetian blinds held firmly in check.
The sound is monaural, even though its immediate predecessor, "Thunderball," was in stereo. I found the sound somewhat forward, hollow, and metallic, with only sporadic deep bass, about the same as the first few Bond releases. It does its job, no more.
Every Special 007 Edition has impeccable bonus credentials, and this one is no different. Among the welcome extras is a full-length commentary with director Lewis Gilbert and members of the cast and crew; Gilbert is now getting on in years but remarkably lucid. Then there's the usual 007 behind-the-scenes documentary, this one called "Inside You Only Live Twice," lasting thirty minutes, and narrated as always by Patrick Macnee; it chronicles the real-life near deaths that occurred during the filming as much as it talks about the film itself. Next, there's a twenty-three-minute documentary that's even more revealing, "Silhouette--The James Bond Titles." It tells us everything we've ever wanted to know about those sexy opening credits that have become such a hallmark of the Bond series. There are also thirty-two scene selections, an animated storyboard sequence, and various theatrical trailers, radio, and TV spots. English and Spanish are the spoken languages; French and Spanish the subtitles.
Funny how this film, despite its charismatic star, gorgeous locations, expensive sets, and multitudinous cast, left me cold. I remember reading the novel back in college around 1964 and thinking how disappointed I was when the movie came out a few years later because the filmmakers had changed so much of the plot. My discontent has not diminished. "You Only Live Twice" may be purchased separately or in a boxed set that includes "From Russia With Love," "Diamonds Are Forever," "Moonraker," "For Your Eyes Only," "The Living Daylights," and "The World Is Not Enough."