If I had to pick my least favorite of all the Bond films, 1967’s You Only Live Twice would have to be a serious contender. Why so bad? Let me count the ways:
- It follows on the heels of one of the best: Thunderball. It had to be good to keep up with From Russia With Love and Thunderball — any shortcoming would be magnified, especially if you watch them all one after another without a 2-year break in between.
- The cheesy special effects (rocket descent, rockets capturing other spacecraft, volcano explosion) make it more like a 60s sci-fi movie than a spy movie. I know that special effects in the 60s weren’t what they are today, but, ugh.
- The fight scenes are sub-par. Contrast the greatness of the fight with Red Grant in the train in From Russia With Love with the comical video-game-style fight with Osato’s dozens of goons at the ship yard in YOLT.
- The way they treat the Bond Girl, Aki, is downright ridiculous. With Bond, she takes all day to cross the bay, climb the mountain and descend into the volcano crater, clad only in a bikini and tennis shoes. It takes her a matter of (what, an hour?) to travel all the way back to Tanaka’s place, swimming across the bay along the way, to get him and his ninjas and return to the crater. Inside the crater, she’s along for the fight, but does nothing but cower behind people who know how to use weapons. She really shouldn’t have come, as she’s nothing but a burden.
- The filmmakers had Bond go under cover by having some sort of operation to turn him into “a Japanese”, as Tanaka says. The results are horrendous – he just looks and sounds like a Scottish guy with a bad haircut and eyebrows.
OK, so it’s bad. But there are some redeeming qualities:
- Osato and his henchman (woman – Helga Brandt) are great Bond villains.
- Blofeld’s lair hidden inside a hollowed-out volcano — kinda cheesy, I know, but classic nonetheless. At the time, it was an extravagant set that really sold the movie, and has set the standard for spy-movie supervillains (and their parodies) ever since.
- Little Nellie is pure brilliance. So is the helecopter picking up Osata’s goons’ car with a huge magnet and dumping it into the bay.
James Bond: Is this the only room there is?
Kissy Suzuki: Yes. That is your bed,
Kissy Suzuki: I shall sleep over there.
James Bond: But we’re supposed to be married.
Kissy Suzuki: Think again, please. You gave false name to priest.
James Bond: Yes, but we must keep up appearances. We’re on our honeymoon.
Kissy Suzuki: No honeymoon. This is business.
Blofeld: James Bond. Allow me to introduce myself. I am Ernst Stavro Blofeld. They told me you were assassinated in Hong Kong.
James Bond: Yes, this is my second life.
Blofeld: You only live twice, Mr. Bond.
Mr. Osato: You should give up smoking. Cigarettes are very bad for your chest.
Helga Brandt: Mr. Osato believes in healthy chest.
Another odd miscellaneous thing: in this movie, Henderson gives Bond a martini, “stirred, not shaken”, and he accepts. Usually, of course, it’s “shaken, not stirred”.
So You Only Live twice is worth watching, if only because it’s one of the classic 1960s Bond films, and if you keep in mind that this is the last of the string of the first of the series starring Sean Connery (yeah he made his return in Diamonds are Forever four years later, but George Lazenby’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service was in between).