(director: Lewis Gilbert; screenwriters: Harold Jack Bloom/Roald Dahl/based on the novel by Ian Fleming; cinematographer: Freddie Young; editor: Peter Hunt; music: John Barry; cast: Connery (James Bond), Tetsura Tamba (Tiger Tanaka), Mie Hama (Kissy Suzuki), Akiko Wakabayashi (Aki), Donald Pleasence (Ernst Stavro Blofeld), Bernard Lee (M), Desmond Llewellyn (Q), Charles Gray (Dikko Henderson), Teru Shimada (Osato), Karin Dor (Helga Brandt), Tsai Chin (Ling, Chinese Girl in Hong Kong), Lois Maxwell (Miss Moneypenny); Runtime: 114; MPAA Rating: PG; producer: Albert R. Broccoli/Harry Saltzman; United Artists; 1967-UK)

“It vainly tries to flash its escapist fun teeth with the usual implausible Bond plot.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

This was the fifth James Bond film, but not one that pleased Sean Connery who was growing tired of his character. He refused to renew his contract, only to be lured back with all kinds of sweets four years later to play Bond in Diamonds Are Forever. The fine theme song is sung by Nancy Sinatra. Director Lewis Gilbert (“The Spy Who Loved Me”/Alfie”/”Moonraker”) poorly paces You Only Live Twice and seems to have shot the action scenes in a flat businesslike manner. It’s weakly written by short story writer Roald Dahl, who further puts a damper on things by drastically changing Ian Fleming’s source novel so it’s barely recognizable (yet oddly enough this was the film most other Bond films modeled the formula after). It vainly tries to flash its escapist fun teeth with the usual implausible Bond plot, many mindless formulaic set-pieces, the requisite car chase, coarse glib one-liners, gimmicky gadgets, hot chicks in bikinis, fabulous stunts and exotic locations. What it mainly lacks by now is freshness, as it tries to get by solely on the usual panache Connery gives to the role–which for me, was a good enough reason to see the film.

In the prologue, the American space mission discovers that a mysterious unmarked spacecraft engulfs an American space capsule, and the Americans blame the Russians. The real culprit is SPECTRE, the diabolical international crime syndicate trying to provoke a nuclear war so that the Soviets and the USA will destroy each other and SPECTRE would then become the dominant force in the world. When Allied missile tracking stations reveal that the ship came down somewhere in Japan, 007 (Sean Connery) is sent by his government to investigate. To make things easier for him to move freely, Bond’s death is faked in Hong Kong and an elaborate funeral at sea is staged.

Bond sneaks into Japan to meet his contact Henderson (Charles Gray), but he’s assassinated by agents of Japanese industrialist Osato (Teru Shimada) while conferring with 007. Aided by Tiger Tanaka’s (Tetsura Tamba) secret service agent Aki (Akiko Wakabayashi), Bond discovers something fishy about Osato’s shipping enterprise. After a business meeting with Osato where Bond pretended to be a businessman, Bond is captured by Osato’s seductive accomplice Helga Brandt (Karin Dor) and while left bound in an airborne, pilotless plane, he still manages to get free to land the plane and escape before it explodes.

Discovering there’s unusual activity on a Japanese island while surveying the Japanese coastline with his Q (Desmond Llewellyn) built miniature helicopter, Bond is then made over by Tanaga to be a Japanese fisherman to help him investigate the island without drawing suspicion. He’s given a facelift (though he looks exactly the same afterwards), trained as a ninja and married to a Japanese agent (Kissy Suzuki) posing as a peasant. Things become critical when a Soviet space capsule disappears in the same way the American one did and the Soviets blame the Americans, bringing the world powers to the brink of nuclear war. Bond and his wife explore the island and discover a secret hideout in a volcano. The climax has Bond saving the world in a lavish underground cave that’s fully equipped with nuclear power (courtesy of designer Ken Adam’s brilliant set design). Tanaka’s hundred or so ninja’s come to rescue Bond, who has been captured in the volcano hideout of the psychopathic sinister cat loving Ernst Stavro Blofeld (Donald Pleasence), SPECTRE’s number one, the mastermind behind the operation who is being paid by the Chinese government to start a war between America and the Soviet Union. In the volcano hideout, Blofeld uses his army and firepower to prevent the good guys from putting an end to his bad dreams of world power but comes out on the short end of the stick.