One of Bond’s somewhat more controversial films today, You Only Live Twice is still one of the more action packed of the franchise. Warning once again spoilers ahead.
An American spacecraft was taken in space by an unknown aircraft and killed an astronaut who could not get back in the rocket in time (which honestly did not make any sense to me why he couldn’t pull himself in or his buddy couldn’t.) America blames Russia, who denies all involvement, but the British suspect the Japanese are involved since the spacecraft landed just off the Sea of Japan. Bond is assigned, after faking his death in Hong King (hence the title.) Contacted by Aki (Akiko Wakabayashi), an agent for Japanese Secret Service, Bond meets MI6 operative Dikko Henderson (Charles Gray, not the first time this actor will be in a Bond film) who believes the Japanese are working with someone else and has evidence of a rogue craft. He is killed before he can elaborate. Bond is able to kill the assassin and poses as him to find out more, discovering Osato Chemicals is involved by taking photos locked in a safe. Bond is then, uniquely I may add, introduced to the head of Japanese SS, Tiger Tanaka (Tetsuro Tamab). Bond is quick to suspect SPECTRE’s involvment, and he is right. The head of Osato Chemicals, Mr, Osato (Teru Shimada) along with his secretary, Number 11 Helga Brandt (Karin Dor)are working for number 1 of SPECTRE, finally introduced as Ernst Stavro Blofeld (portrayed in this film by Donald Pleasence), hired by the People’s Republic of China to start a war between Russia and America; tensions growing further after a Russian rocket is captured. In order to get close to the island where the rogue craft is, and this is where the controversy starts, Bond must become Japanese, train like Tanaka’s ninja’s and take a wife. Along the way Aki is killed by an assassin, who meant to kill Bond. Bond then enters the island with his “wife” Kissy (Mie Hama but voiced by Nikki van der Zyl) and soon comes face to face with Blofeld. Of course SPECTRE’s plans fail thanks to Bond and ninjas, but this was only the beginning of Bloefeld’s official on-screen presence.
Now you have to remember this movie was done in the 1960’s and a lot of older films were not as PC as they are today. While Bond’s Japanese appearance may not have been controversy back then, it does not do any favors now. I will say I do like observing a bit of Japanese culture with the sumo wrestling. Admittedly hearing some things bothered me, but knowing it is Japanese culture back then maybe even now I can forgive it(and I am not looking for any arguments about a different culture.) I have an aunt and uncle who lived in Japan for a while, so my knowledge of the culture is limited if any, but I do not wish to disrespect a culture.The film also has one of the best car chase scenes in Bond history, a great aerial flight with “Little Nellie” as Bond calls the craft and amazing use of ninjas during the training sequence and final battle.
Moving on, as usual my views on Aki and Kissy will appear later, so let’s focus on the villains and help. After five films Bond finally comes face to face with his greatest rival Blofeld. As you will come to see in other Bond films Blofeld is portrayed differently, but Donald Pleasence definitely set the bar with a unique look and fear. While at times his voice is not as menacing a it should be it does not take away Pleasence performance. Mr. Osato and Brandt are terrified of him, and once they failed him in trying to kill Bond they pay the ultimate price (Osato is shot while Brandt after sleeping with and failing to kill Bond is eaten alive by piranhas.) Thankfully Bond does have help with Japanese SS head Tanaka, but called Tiger by his friends. I like Tanaka because of his uniqueness. unlike many who help Bond this guy is not well known to his people, he has his own island, train and he has ninjas; who can say they have that? I must also add the opening sequence with the lava is one of my favorite openings to this franchise.
Overall while the film is not as PC by today’s standards You Only Live Twice is still a good film, and for a short period of time Sean Connery’s last as 007. Coming soon George Lazenby’s only turn as Bond in one of the best known, and heartbreaking, Bond films ever “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service”.