You Only Live Twice
directed by Lewis Gilbert
(United Artists/MGM, 1967)

It is only fitting that, in the first scene of You Only Live Twice, James Bond is murdered in a Hong Kong lover's bed.

Because the assignment for which Bond (Sean Connery) faked his death takes him to Japan, where the leader of Japanese Intelligence tells him "men come first, women come second." For Bond, whose flaws are dominated by a relentless sexism, this might as well be heaven.

You Only Live Twice adds an element of science fiction to the Bond mythos. SPECTRE, the terrorist group that has provided Bond with so many foes over the years, has developed a reusable rocket (remember, this is 1967) that can capture other spacecraft in flight. As the Americans and Soviets rattle sabres at each other over their space-race losses, Bond heads to Japan, where the mysterious launches and landings seem to be taking place.

Despite the mistaken belief that a new hair style and a bit of cosmetics around the eyes are enough to make Bond pass as a native Japanese fisherman (and his odd reversion to his original look as soon as he confronts the bad guys), You Only Live Twice is another solid entry in the Bond series. Even though we know who the villains are, director Lewis Gilbert creates faux suspense by keeping them largely hidden until the climactic finish -- a small war in the high-tech cavern beneath a dormant volcano. Few films could successfully combine space wars and ninjas, but this one manages to pull it off.

Assisting Bond, besides his usual cronies at British Intelligence, are some able-bodied Japanese counterparts, including Aki (Akiko Wakabayashi) and Kissy Suzuki (Mie Hama), led by their M equivalent, Tiger Tanaka (Tetsuro Tamba). Donald Pleasence is SPECTRE head Ernst Stavro Blofeld (who shows his face for the first time in a Bond film -- oddly, Donald Gray, who plays British agent Henderson in this movie, later portrays Blofeld in Diamonds Are Forever). He is assisted (temporarily, at least) by Karin Dor as the sly Helga Brandt.

This is not the best Bond by far, but it's still a fun romp in the international spy biz ... and it still has Connery in the key role. You can't go too far wrong as long as that's the case.

[ by Tom Knapp ]

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