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You Only Live Twice

bond-you only live twice


Written by: Ian Fleming

Bond is in a bad way. He’s bungled his last two missions. His transition to alcoholic is complete. M is inches away from actually firing him. Even trusty Mary Goodnight, his latest secretary, is worried, mother-henning him to death. And it’s all because of Tracy. (Yes! His previous adventures DO have consequences!)

M talks to his psychologist friend and makes up his mind to NOT fire Bond. Instead, he puts him on a mission that is “impossible.” No one can do it. Possibly not even Bond. But it doesn’t involve any danger…as far as M knows. It does, however, mean a pay raise for Bond and the (possibly) temporary revoking of his double O status.

Bond is to go to Japan, meet with an Australian agent named Dikko and find out how to get close to a Japanese official named Tiger Tanaka. This man is the doorway to something called Magic 44. It’s a translating device or code that will translate the latest in Soviet secret messages that the US has been hiding from Britain for reasons unknown to anyone else. Japan knows them, but that’s really it.

Dikko introduces Bond to Tanaka and, after a few weeks of sake-bombs and geishas, Bond ingratiates himself on Tanaka.

The man finds out exactly what Bond wants and decides what Bond must do for it. You see, he can’t just hand it over. He has to get something out of it, too. So Bond is charged with finding out more about a local “death collector.” This man (a white man named Dr. Shatterhand, of course) has put together a floral nursery/museum of deadly and poisonous plants. The rather suicide happy society has taken it upon themselves to use this museum as a place to commit the act. They trespass onto the property at night and drop themselves into the displays. In the morning, though, no matter which plants they chose (even if it wasn’t deadly), they would be reduced to a pile of charred bone. How is that possible?

Tanaka and the government know that something is amiss and want Bond to kill Shatterhand. Secretly, of course. Even his own government doesn’t know that he’s doing it.

For the next few weeks, Tanaka turns Bond Japanese. He teaches him the ways of the islanders and even dyes his skin darker. Bond, of course, is resistant. Especially when his food runs away from him at one point. Eventually, though, he does what needs to be done and makes Tanaka basically proud.

When Tanaka shows him his ninja school, Bond is incredibly impressed. He’s especially impressed when he finds out that sumo wrestlers and these ninjas can retract their balls back into the cavities they were dropped from during puberty.

While Bond and Tanaka are on their way to their destination, they run into someone that they’ve run into twice before, but only Bond has noticed. He’s a man who swiped Bond’s wallet and then Bond noticed him again later. Now, he’s on a motorcycle following them. They kill him and find out that he’s a member of a Hell’s Angels sort of gang that Shatterhand has hired as security. How very Mick Jagger of him.

They proceed and talk to the local authorities on the island where Shatterhand’s museum is. Bond finds out from pictures that Shatterhand is actually…BLOFELD!!!

Yeah. Really not much of a surprise. And his “too ugly to live” wife is, of course, Irma Blunt. Bond keeps this info to himself because he wants his revenge and not the CIA and MI6 to come in and take them to prison.

Tanaka takes Bond to a small island near Blofeld’s newest lair. Of course, there’s a girl. Of course, her name is Kissy Suzuki. She’s a pearl diver. Of course, she and all of her pearl diving buddies work nude. Bond may be depressed over Tracy’s death and rattled with thoughts of revenge, but he’s not dead. He can’t have sex with her yet, though, because he’s staying with her and her parents.

Kissy helps him get to the island (after falling for him a little bit…of course) and he uses his new ninja skills to get into Blofeld’s castle…and, unfortunately, straight into his clutches. His cover story of being a deaf and dumb Japanese miner doesn’t really hold much water and Blunt recognizes him. They set him on what basically amounts to a toilet over a geyser of lava that shoots up every hour. When he gets off the pot he proves that he’s not deaf…or dumb.

Blofeld then threatens him with a samurai sword. Apparently, while Bond is a ninja, Blofeld is a samurai.
This is where Blofeld does his best impression of a Bond villain. (Weird, huh?) He explains himself to Bond. What’s great is that FLEMING TELLS US WHY HE DOES IT!! It’s not just to kill time so that the hero can figure out a way to get out. It’s actually to justify the horrors that he puts forth.

“He knew what would be coming–justification. It was always so. When they thought they had got you where they wanted you, when they knew they were decisively on top, before the knock-out, even to an audience on the threshold of extinction, it was pleasant, reassuring to the executioner, to deliver his apologia–purge the sin he was about to commit.”

THAT is the reason for all of the explanations. And it makes perfect sense.

He also calls Bond a “blunt instrument.” I’m pretty sure that this is at least the second time the phrase is used in the books.

Blofeld explains how his last two schemes (Thunderball and On Her Majesty’s Secret Service) were really going to be GOOD for the human race. After all, he just wanted to steal nuclear warheads and get money for them. What if someone like Castro did that? He would actually use them! If Blofeld had succeeded and gotten his money, security would have been ramped up and, in fact, disarmament might have been talked about! If he had succeeded in poisoning the farms of England, then England would have gotten out of their malaise and banded together the way they did in WWII. MI6 was actually doing a disservice by stopping him!

That’s when Bond had had enough. He grabs a stave, hits Irma with it and then attacks Blofeld. Of course, the fight is long and Bond wins. HE ACTUALLY KILLS BLOFELD!! Strangles the shit out of him. Irma lives, but just barely. Bond goes back to the room with the volcanic toilet in it, puts the lid down and then runs before the place explodes. He grabs a nearby balloon (huh?) and floats off. Irma shoots the balloon and he falls into the sea.

The next to last chapter is a pretty heartfelt obituary written by M with a postscript by Mary Goodnight. It gives a LOT of background for Bond and even talks about a series of books that have been written about the man. Apparently, if the books had been any better, the government may have sued the author.

But…there’s one chapter left…

Bond, of course, lives and is fished out of the water by Kissy, who saw him from her little corner of the world. He’s lost his memory completely and she decides that it’s in everyone’s best interest to keep his past from him so that she can have him all to herself. IF, however, his memory starts to come back, she promises the local priest that she won’t stop it. She will help him.

Of course, things do start to sort of come back and she has to help him.

But…she’s pregnant.


Holy shit. You Only Live Twice isn’t the best of the Bond books, but it’s certainly not bad and it has a pretty killer ending. I’m glad that Fleming managed one more book before he died so that Bond didn’t end up languishing in an amnesia haze.

One thing I like about the book is that, even though there is the usual “these Japanese barbarians” talk, Fleming seems to have at least a little bit of respect for the culture. He explains a lot of it and kind of seems to think that some of their ways are better than his Western ways.

I feel like, though, Blofeld had kind of an anti-climactic ending. Really? Bond just strangled him? All over? There has to be more. He has to come back in the next book. You only live twice, right? I kind of want to start reading The Man With The Golden Gun right now. Alas, I can’t. Not just yet.

Even with all of that, I feel like the book was just kind of a holding pattern to get to the ending. There’s a LOT of exposition (over half the book, really) and not a lot of action at all until the very end when Bond finally makes it into the castle. And then that action takes place in about half an hour or so.

I did like that ending, though.

CONQUESTS: Various prostitutes, Mariko Ichiban (Japanese prostitute), Kissy Suzuki (NOT a Japanese prostitute)
GLOBE-HOPPING: Japan. Just Japan.


Directed by: Lewis Gilbert
Written by: Roald Dahl/Harold Jack Bloom (departed early on)
Based on book by: Ian Fleming

This is the first Bond film that hardly had anything to do with the source novel. A few factors show up (Tanaka, Kissy, the island that Kissy lives on and, well, Japan), but the story is completely different. It’s also not as dark. This doesn’t take place right after the only woman Bond truly loved was killed, after all. Eon really WANTED to make On Her Majesty’s Secret Service before this one, but they just couldn’t. They had to have winter locations, but Connery’s contract was almost up, so they had to move fast. They decided on You Only Live Twice, but then they had a problem finding the locations from the book. (The Japanese never build castles on the sea.) When producer Cubby Broccoli and production designer Ken Adam saw the volcanoes of Japan, they knew what they had to do.

The movie (written by Dahl, author of Willy Wonka fame…and you can kind of tell) starts off in space! Strangely, it’s still better than Moonraker. An American spacecraft is attacked by an unidentified spacecraft. It opens up and swallows the American craft, stranding an astronaut who was outside the craft on a lifeline.

If it wasn’t Soviet, who was it?

Bond (Sean Connery) opens the film by having sex with a Chinese girl named Ling (Tsai Chin) and he’s immediately killed by her assassin buddies when she closes him up in a folding bed.

Cue the opening credits!

Nancy Sinatra’s title song (written, of course, by John Barry with uncredited lyrics by Leslie Bricusse) is pretty awesome. The sequence itself a little lacking with stereotypical Asian ladies using chopsticks and wearing head-dresses against a volcanic background. Meh. Not nearly as good as girls doing gymnastics on the barrel of a gun.

Bond is then given up to the sea in a regular Naval funeral, but his body is taken to a submarine where he, of course, isn’t actually dead. Moneypenny and M (Lois Maxwell and Bernard Lee) are waiting for him there to give him his mission. He has to find out who swallowed the rocket before all Hell breaks loose. He’s got less than three weeks before the Americans launch another rocket.

On his way out, Moneypenny gives him his password…”I love you.” He refuses to repeat it.

He swims to shore and goes to his first rendezvous point: a sumo match. There he tells a nice young Japanese lady that he loves her and she tells him that Henderson is waiting for him at the hotel. (Henderson is played by Charles Gray, who would play Blofeld the next time Connery plays Bond in Diamonds Are Forever.) Henderson tells him to meet up with Tanaka, but is killed before he can tell him who he thinks launched the rocket. Bond catches and kills the assassin, steals his hat, jacket and mask and poses as him until he’s taken back to the bad guy’s lair. He beats the snot out of the second assassin in a great fist/sword/couch fight. The lair is the Osata Chemicals office building. Bond steals some papers from a safe and gets all of the security guards running after him.

The same young lady shows up to save him, but who is she? And where is she taking him? Did she have Henderson killed? Whoever she is, she leads him directly into a trap set by Tiger Tanaka (Tetsuro Tanba)…who also tells Bond that he loves him. The girl, by the way, is Aki (Akiko Wakabayashi). She’ll be back.

Tiger takes Bond to his hidden home and gives him three girls to give him a bath. “In Japan, men come first, women second.” (I suddenly heard Austin Powers say, “Or sometimes not at all. HAHAHAHAHAHAHAAAAAA!!”) Bond chooses a girl to give him a massage and Aki takes her place. “I think I will enjoy serving under you.”

Tiger sets up a meeting between Bond and Mr. Osata (Teru Shimada) so that he can snoop around a bit. Osata’s secretary, Helga Brandt (Karin Dor), offers him champagne and is VERY suspicious of him. Osata secretly x-ray’s Bond and sees his gun, so he knows that he’s not really “Mr. Fisher.” He orders him killed on the way out. Once again, Aki saves his life. A car/helicopter chase ensues. The helicopter, luckily, is Tiger’s. He lifts the offending car up with a giant magnet, spiriting the bad guys away and dropping them in the ocean.

Bond and Aki go to the docks to check out what’s being delivered. They’re met by goons. Somehow, Aki manages to get away while Bond fights his way to the top of the dock. (Killer ariel shot of him running around the roof with thugs following him.) Unfortunately, they get the better of him, knocking him on the head and tying him up for Helga to torture info out of him. For some reason, instead of torturing him, she starts kissing him. He tells her that he’s an industrial spy and promises to split the reward with her. She agrees by allowing him inside her.

Unfortunately for Bond, she double crosses him and, while flying him to their destination, straps him in and jumps out of the plane. Of course, this doesn’t work and he lands the plane just before it explodes.

Tiger and Aki show Bond a photo of one of Osata’s ships and they notice that it’s heavier in the second photo, although nothing was ever loaded onto it. This is when “Little Nellie and her father” show up. Little Nellie is a tiny, portable gyrocopter. (This was found by Ken Adam when he heard about it on the radio. He knew that he had to have it for the movie.) Her father is Q (Desmond Llewelyn). Bond flies Nellie to a natural area with nothing by volcanoes. But why are these helicopters guarding it? Nellie makes surprisingly short work of these ariel thugs. She’s a lady.

Meanwhile, the Russians launch their spaceship. The same thing happens to it, proving that it wasn’t a Russian vessel that took the American one. This is where we learn that those innocent looking volcanoes aren’t so innocent. In the most infamous of all Bond villain lairs, the volcano opens up for the mystery ship to land. Then we see, for the first time, the familiar white cat being held in the arms of a man clad in the familiar tan suit. He’s surrounded by Osata, Helga and their minions.

Blofeld (Donald Pleasance, although we haven’t seen his face yet) tells two businessmen (one of whom is Bert Kwouk from the Pink Panther movies) that he will kill them if they don’t comply…he’ll kill them with piranhas that he keeps in his office. (No, they don’t have frickin’ laser beams.) He calls Osata and Helga into his office and chides them for not knowing that it was Bond that they had in their building. He sends Helga to a watery, piranha-y grave, scaring the shit out of Osata in the process.

Here’s where Tiger finally shows Bond his Ninja school…although they also do some Samurai training, too. (It’s 1967. No white man knew the difference back then.) In addition to a bunch of Ninja, Tiger also has his own Q unit, complete with a rocket/cigarette.

This is also where Bond turns Japanese. They shave his chest and give him prosthetics to make his eyes ever so slightly almond shaped. He never truly looks any more Asian than he already did. Which is to say, he doesn’t at all. Tiger tells him that he must take a wife, but it can’t be Aki. It must be one of the girls from the island that he has to infiltrate. “She has a face like a pig!”

After Bond and Aki do it one last time, an assassin drops in with a long string and strychnine. Bond rolls over just in time, but Aki rolls the wrong way and gets the shit end of that string.

No more Aki.

Bond trains a bit more with the Ninja and then meets his future wife, Kissy (Mie Hama). She does not have a face like a pig. She also, unfortunately, doesn’t spend most of her time naked. In fact, she won’t even sleep in the same bed as him. (Bond looks down at his dinner of oysters. “Well, I won’t be needing these.”)

Tiger comes to find Bond at night to tell him that the Americans are launching early. He’s got less time now! Kissy tells them about a girl who took her boat into a cave and came out dead. Now they know where they have to go.

They get to the cave and Bond immediately notices the poisonous gasses being pumped into the cave. They jump into the water and swim out. They start to climb up the side of the volcano and Bond finally starts to get beyond Kissy’s defenses, but the honeymoon’s over when they see a helicopter descending into the volcano. Time to get going!

Bond and Kissy make the discovery of the inside of the volcano and Bond goes inside, wearing a weird-ass leotard. He looks like one of the nihilists in The Dude’s dream. He finds the astronauts and helps them escape.
Meanwhile, Kissy is swimming back to the island and gets caught. The helicopter shoots at her. They fly over and don’t see her anymore. (Of course she survives and runs to tell Tanaka who gathers the troops.)

Blofeld finds Bond before he can get on the spaceship disguised as an astronaut. We finally see Blofeld’s face and he has a giant monocle-like scar around his eye and going up his face.

But…what’s his plan, exactly? He says that he’s trying to start a war. Is this really the best way to do it?

Oh well. Whatever. It’s Bond and Blofeld. That’s really all that matters.

He launches his ship (with a Russian star on it) to take the latest American ship. However will Bond win?

Well, since Kissy wasn’t killed and managed to get to Tiger, there are dozens of Japanese men right outside of the secret lair. They get into the crater and are promptly shot by the “crater guns.”

While Bond watches his co-workers get killed, he asks for a smoke. (Remember?) He kills one of the men and manages to open the crater. He gets caught again, but the crater is opened long enough to let lots of men in. One blows the roof off the place and everyone pours in.

Lots of shooting and explosions ensue.

Blofeld, Osata and their giant German assistant lead Bond out of harm’s way where Blofeld kills Osata. “This is the price of failure, Mr. Bond.” Blofeld gets into a tiny pod and, just before he’s able to shoot Bond, Tiger throws a star at him and knocks his hand out of line. The pod takes off with Blofeld, sans gun.

Bond rushes off and meets up with that giant German in Blofeld’s office…with the piranha. Guess where Mr. German goes. “Bon appetit.”

Oh yeah. Plot. Blofeld’s ship is about to take the American ship. Bond does his very best to stop it, managing to blow it up just before it swallows the smaller ship. Blofeld, in his rage, hits the self-destruct switch on his lair.

More explosions and a cheesy special effect ensue.

Bond and Kissy swim to a life raft. “Now. How about that honeymoon?”

“But they’ll never let you stay.”

“But they’ll never find us.”

Little does Bond know that M’s submarine is right under them.

You Only Live Twice is, honestly, probably the least of the Connery films, but it’s still a LOT of fun.

Let’s talk about what’s bad about the movie.

Blofeld’s plan makes absolutely no sense and seems incredibly inefficient. It would probably cost him less to just build his own nuclear bombs and blow up Moscow and Washington than to steal the spaceships of the two countries to start a war between them.

This is also the most prime example of Blofeld being an idiot. He has more chances to kill Bond in this movie than any other, but he just doesn’t do it. Why? No reason. None at all. He just waits for someone to come along to stop him. It’s one thing to tie Bond to a table and have a laser do the job as you walk out the door. The laser should take care of it. It’s something wholly other to just not freakin’ do it. Just stand there, point your gun, talk to him a bit and then wait for someone to hit your arm with a Ninja star.


Worst of all, though, are the stereotypes.

Wait. This is 1967. And a Bond film. Of course there are stereotypes. Who am I kidding? They’re no more offensive than, say, Live And Let Die six years later. And they should have known better by 1973!

My last complaint is actually a weird one: Donald Pleasance. The guy’s awesome. A great actor who should have been great as the enigmatic super-villain of the Bond series.

Unfortunately, he’s not given very much to do except stroke a…cat. Oh, and he sometimes tries to look threateningly as Bond…from about two feet below Connery’s eyeline. Connery is SO MUCH FREAKIN’ TALLER THAN PLEASANCE! It undermines any threat that Blofeld might hold. Maybe it was meant to be that way, but I don’t know. It ended up being funnier than it was probably supposed to be.

What’s awesome?

First and foremost, there’s the production design. Holy shit. Osata’s office is amazing, with all of the diagonal lines and Asian ceilings. Maybe it was the cinematography that made it so awesome, but whatever. I kind of wanted his office.

Oh, and there’s the little matter of the volcano lair. THIS is where all of that really started. I mean, Dr. No had the dragon vehicle, Goldfinger had his giant map and the laser, but Blofeld pulled out all the stops with hollowing out a volcano and sticking hundreds of people and a missile launch pad in it. And the piranha moat with the trap bridge probably brought the property value WAY up. (Another bit that Dr. Evil pilfered.) It also really showed off Roald Dahl’s imagination. He may not have come up with the volcano lair, but he may as well have. He did come up with the best way to use it.

Of course, the Bond franchise would try to one-up the volcano with each film after this, but this is where it all began. And it’s absolutely perfect.

He also (probably) came up with the mini-helicopter. That’s a bit of Bond-lore right there.

Like I said, it’s a flawed movie, but it’s still really fun.

What’s a little bit sad is that Bond is probably the least memorable part of the whole movie. Connery was sick of the role by this point and it seemed like they tried to make the movie as unobtrusive to his life as possible. He just kind of goes through the motions and doesn’t even have a whole lot of action. Sure, he has that one really cool fight scene with the couch and he does some running around, but there’s a lot of obvious stunt work going on. He also gets saved a whole lot. Aki is always right there for him. He hardly has to life a finger to get himself saved…until she gets killed, that is. Then he actually has to save himself.

The direction by Lewis Gilbert also deserves some mention here. It’s his first time out and he manages to make his mark on it. (He would come back for The Spy Who Loved Me and, unfortunately, Moonraker.) He and cinematographer Freddie Young made this movie look pretty epic. Take a look at the scene on the dock as Bond runs away from 10 or so thugs. The camera is high above them, following Bond around the roof of the warehouse, just a tiny figure doing his damnedest to get away from 10 other tiny figures, occasionally besting them.

This was Young’s only Bond film and he really didn’t have much of a resume beyond this…I mean, unless you include such little films as Lawrence Of Arabia. Or Doctor Zhivago. Or Ivanhoe. But who cares about those films, right?

Man. How did Cubby and Saltzman score that guy?

Of course, there are special features on the DVDs. One of them is an hour long tv special where Moneypenny tries to figure out who Bond is marrying. To me, this would be a pretty major spoiler. Then again, the movie treats the marriage like what it is: a duty. The special, though, treats it like a huge deal. They do, however, talk about Tracy. “I thought that I was going to be his only wife!”

Moneypenny and another woman go through the list of Bond’s women to figure out who he could possibly be marrying. It’s among the silliest Bond specials ever made and I can’t believe that it took them an hour to do it. Kinda stupid, really.

Probably the best special features are the location feature with Ken Adam (15 minutes of awesome behind the scenes footage narrated by Adam) and the half hour doc about the title sequences. Sadly, I never really knew who Maurice Binder was. He created the title sequences for all but two of the original run of Bond films up through 1989. The only two he missed were From Russia With Love and Goldfinger. With 81 sequences to his credit (including The Taming Of The Shrew, Barbarella, Bedazelled and Repulsion), he was one of the greatest title sequence directors of all time.

All in all, You Only Live Twice may not be the best Bond book or movie, but they’re nowhere near an embarrassment. They both add something to the continuing story of the greatest spy in the history of fiction. Connery made better Bond films, but this was certainly the biggest and, quite possibly, the most creative.

As far as I’m concerned, they’ve never really gotten much bigger than the inside of a volcano.

CONQUESTS: Ling (maybe), Aki, Helga Brandt, Kissy
GLOBE-HOPPING: Hong Kong, Japan