YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE (United Artists, 1967)

Entry Source: The James Bond Movie Encyclopedia by Steven Jay Rubin


★★★  The fifth James Bond film produced by Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman. US release date: June 13, 1967. Budget: $9.5 million. Worldwide box office gross: $111.6 million (US domestic gross: $43.1 million; international gross: $68.5 million).[1] Running time: 117 minutes.

The Setup

SPECTRE is up to its old blackmail tricks. This time, resourceful Ernst Stavro Blofeld (Donald Pleasence) is operating out of a rocket base hidden inside the cone of an extinct Japanese volcano—launching rockets that are capturing US and Soviet space capsules. World War III is imminent unless British intelligence can find the source of the SPECTRE plot. To free up his movements in Japan, James Bond (Sean Connery) is “assassinated” by machine gun–wielding killers in Hong Kong, buried at sea, and rescued by British naval divers. He then arrives incognito in Tokyo, where he teams up with the head of the Japanese Secret Service, Tiger Tanaka (Tetsuro Tamba) to track down Blofeld.

Behind the Scenes

Every film series has its highs and lows. It’s extremely difficult to maintain quality in an ongoing film series—especially given the creative aspirations of filmmakers, who are always looking for new paths and challenges. To make the same type of film every two years is not an attractive thought for any serious artist. Sean Connery was already feeling the urge to move on when he began work on You Only Live Twice in 1966. And he wasn’t the only one ready for a change.

For the fifth James Bond film, producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman changed their lineup considerably. Gone were director Terence Young, writer Richard Maibaum, cinematographer Ted Moore, and editor Peter Hunt (although Hunt was brought back to shoot second unit footage and to supervise the editing process). The new team included director Lewis Gilbert, cinematographer Freddie Young, and screenwriter Roald Dahl (yes, the legendary children’s author). It was a difficult shoot, and the result is a step down for the series. While Thunderball’s SPECTRE nuclear blackmail scheme is believable, Blofeld’s scheme to capture US and Soviet spaceships with the Intruder rocket is pure science fiction. If the 007 films have demonstrated anything, it’s that James Bond’s adventures should take place on Earth, not in outer space.

The scale of the film is undeniably impressive. Following Thunderball’s enormous success—it grossed more than $60 million in the US alone—the emphasis was once again on big, epic adventure. The story centers on another worldwide threat of nuclear destruction. Production designer Ken Adam was given carte blanche to create his enormous volcano rocket-base set. And the filmmakers skipped across the Japanese mainland, filming at many picturesque locations (surrounded at all times by the Japanese press corps). The movie does capture the allure of Japanese culture—its beautiful women, ancient customs, and emerging technologies.

But the film’s story is a less than compelling one. Elaborate set pieces take center stage at the expense of a solid dramatic structure. The best Bond films establish the villain and his plot early in the story, and everything moves toward a final confrontation between Bond and his enemy. But You Only Live Twice bounces from villain to villain, escapade to escapade, until the final assault on the volcano rocket base puts 007 up against Blofeld for the first time. The action sequences are also more like those found in comic books, and Connery—so glib and light-footed in Thunderball—is given very little to do. The helicopter battle above volcano country, pitting the Little Nellie autogyro against a flight of SPECTRE killer helicopters, is one of the least dramatic action sequences in the entire series. Reduced to pushing the buttons on his autogyro’s defensive controls, Bond becomes a very passive hero.

The women in You Only Live Twice are actually much more interesting than Bond. Japanese secret agent Aki (Akiko Wakabayashi), SPECTRE assassin Helga Brandt (Karin Dor), and 007’s undercover “bride” Kissy (Mie Hama) are the advance guard of the new Bond girl, less breathless and more capable of standing toe to toe with the men. Other high points include John Barry’s lush score and Freddie Young’s cinematography.

Thanks to a long and complicated production schedule, You Only Live Twice was scheduled for release in the summer of 1967 instead of Christmas 1966. That meant it was beaten to the theaters by Charles K. Feldman’s huge, lumbering 007 spoof Casino Royale, which opened on April 28, 1967. Casino Royale’s failure to duplicate the success of the serious Bond films had a definite negative effect on the release of You Only Live Twice. Although Broccoli and Saltzman’s Bond was no failure, it did not repeat the success of Thunderball, and the Bond series began a downward spiral at the box office that would last a decade. With the exception of 1971’s Diamonds Are Forever, Bond would not return to big-money box office success until 1977 with the lavish The Spy Who Loved Me.

THE CAST
Role
Actor/Actress
James Bond Sean Connery
Aki Akiko Wakabayashi
Tiger Tanaka Tetsuro Tamba
Kissy Mie Hama
Osato Teru Shimada
Ernst Stavro Blofeld Donald Pleasence
Helga Brandt Karin Dor
Miss Moneypenny Lois Maxwell
M Bernard Lee
Q Desmond Llewelyn
Dikko Henderson Charles Gray
Ling Tsai Chin
American President Alexander Knox
President’s Aide Robert Hutton
SPECTRE No.3 Burt Kwouk
SPECTRE No. 4 Michael Chow
Hans Ronald Rich

The Crew
Role
Crew Member
Director Lewis Gilbert
Screenplay by Roald Dahl
Producers Harry Saltzman
Albert R. Broccoli
Director of Photography Freddie Young, B.S.C.
Music by John Barry
Title song performed by Nancy Sinatra
Lyrics by Leslie Bricusse
Production Designer Ken Adam
Art Director Harry Pottle
Production Supervisor David Middlemas
Assistant Director William P. Cartlidge
Second Unit Director Peter Hunt
Technical Adviser Kikumaru Okuda
Second Unit Cameraman Bob Huke
Aerial Unit Cameraman John Jordan
Underwater Cameraman Lamar Boren
Action sequences by Bob Simmons
Title Designer Maurice Binder
Special Effects John Stears
Editor Thelma Connell


[1] “You Only Live Twice (1967),” The Numbers, accessed July 20, 2020, https://www.the-numbers.com/movie/You-Only-Live-Twice.