Friday, March 30, 2012

"You Only Live Twice" (1967)

Starring Sean Connery, Mie Hama and Donald Pleasance
Written by Roald Dahl
Directed by Lewis Gilbert
Rated PG - Violence, sex
Running Time: 117 Minutes

After an American space rocket is attacked by a mysterious spacecraft, the American government naturally blames the Russians.  The British government, on the other hand, isn't convinced and sends Agent 007, James Bond (Sean Connery) to Japan to track this strange craft.

He meets with an agent Henderson (Charles Gray) who is murdered before he can impart important information to Bond, and Bond tracks the assassin to the headquarters of a major Japanese chemical company, which he discovers has been manufacturing rocket fuel for whoever it is that is responsible for the missing American space craft.

With the Russians and the United States inching closer to war over the incident, Bond must survive assassination attempts from his old nemesis SPECTRE, discover the location of the enemy rocket and stop it before another attack leads to war.

"You Only Live Twice" is a pretty ridiculous film, let me just get that out there.  But while plenty of other James Bond films are just as, if not more, ridiculous, this one lacks that sort of clever balance that can make the more absurd Bond films so keenly enjoyable.  Part of the problem is that while the film starts and ends quite well, the middle tends to sag quite a bit while Bond spends a great deal of time integrating himself into Japanese culture.

This is exemplified in an overlong sequence in which Bond is made up to look Japanese (poorly) and goes through with a fake wedding to Kissy Suzuki (Mie Hama) in order to infiltrate a Japanese fishing village near an extinct volcano that houses the enemy's secret underground lair.  The underground lair itself is hilarious and awesome, and is oft-parodied - both on "The Simpsons" and in the "Austin Powers" films - and lends the film's climax its inspired and epic action sequence.

It's really the action sequences that save "You Only Live Twice," since the middle act of the film is such a drag.  A helicopter chase between Bond in a portable chopper and the finale are highlights, as is a fight early on between Bond and a Japanese assassin in the headquarters of the Osato Corporation.  Bond even gets to beat a guy up with a couch in that one.

The real problem is that the plot here is too thin to support the running time, so the middle of the film feels quite padded out with lots of exploration of Japanese culture instead of the usual fun twists and turns and action sequences that usually populate a Bond film.  There's really not that much that goes on in this film while Bond sort of meanders around Japan.  This might be the fault of first-time screenwriter Roald Dahl, more known for his works of children's literature than for writing action/adventure thrillers.  Luckily, the film picks up in the third act as Bond confronts the villainous Ernst Stavro Blofeld (Donald Pleasance) for the first time, and the massive battle inside the volcano lair.

Overall, "You Only Live Twice" has some really enjoyable sequences, but lacks the energy to make a great Bond film.

See Also
James Bond