Monday, July 1, 2013

Ten Statements About....YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE (1967)

"Wait a're short, you're bald, and you have a
weak chin.  Give me a real master villain!"
“James Bond. Allow me to introduce myself. I am Ernst Stavro Blofeld. They told me you were assassinated in Hong Kong."
“Yes, this is my second life."
“You only live twice, Mr. Bond."

1) This is unique amongst the Bond films for the fact that it’s written by someone outside of the Eon Productions family--namely Roald Dahl.  And as much as I love Dahl as a writer (he’s one of the greatest short story writers ever) and a novelist, this script is very nonsensical and has the kind of ‘and then this happens, and then this happens’ make-it-up-as-it-goes-along feel that comes to dominate the series once the Roger Moore era rolls around.

2) Boy, does Sean Connery look old at times....which might be why he made the decision to leave the franchise during its filming.  He looks particularly old as he goes undercover as a Japanese fisherman (don’t ask).

3) I find it fascinating how this is one of the only Bond films--if not the only Bond film--where the bulk of the gadgets don’t come from Q.  The only thing Desmond Llewellyn gives Bond is Little Nelly; the exploding cigarettes and the ninja mufti is all Tiger Tanaka’s work.  And the ninja angle gives this film a unique feel the previous Bonds don’t have.  And speaking of Tanaka...
"I'm Japanese, damnit...JAPANESE!" 

4) Tetsuro Tamba is great as the head of the Japanese Secret Service.  Since he’s closer to Connery’s age (or at least looks closer to his age), there’s more of a sense of them treating each other as peers.  Plus he’s cool as crap in his own right, what with his own private railway car, ninja school and the ability to call up electromagnet-enabled helicopters at will.

5) While Mie Hama’s Kissy Suzuki is the featured Bond Girl, it’s real curious as to how little she actually is featured.  She doesn’t even show up until after the halfway mark, and doesn’t do much except run around in a very fetching white bikini.  Plus, she’s not all that interesting--and I have to assume that’s the script’s fault because I’ve seen Mie elsewhere and know she’s capable of being engaging.

6) And more puzzling, Connery has more screen time (and way more chemisty) with Akiko Wakabayashi’s Aki.  Aki has a great dry sense of humor that works extremely well with Connery and does a lot more than Kissy.  She definitely feels more like the prime Bond Girl, and while her ultimate fate has more impact due to her screen time, some of the energy goes out of the film when Wakabayashi is no longer in it.
Yep...pretty much the only reason Mie Hama is in this movie.

7) I’m not a big fan of the Japan depicted within this film.  There is a definite sense of Japan as a modern country--which it certainly was becoming at the time--and yet we see people wandering around in traditional Japanese dress at time.  This is particularly jarring when we see Aki tailing Bond at the beginning of Act One, dressed as a geisha in a sea of men and women in suits (I know that this might be Lewis Gilbert trying to make make Aki stand out so we know she’s different, but still....)

And we’re not going to talk about the Fishing Village That Time Forgot....

8) You know...given that this was the culmination of a tease started back with the first film, and the climax of the first leg of this series, the revelation of Donad Pleasance as Blofeld seems a little lax.  He ends up being rather unimposing and less freakish and colorful than the underlings he sent before him (well, other than Largo.  No one’s more boring than Largo yet.).  His interaction with Bond is rather bland and his running like a girl once his plan blows up in his face is laughable.  And speaking of that plan...

9) ...there are some moments that are seriously goofy.  The whole thing with Karin Dor's Helga Brandt and the plane with the wooden plank makes no sense, and the idea of using a big ass spaceship that opens up to swallow smaller spaceships seems rather exorbitant.  And Dahl seems bored whenever some details are needed.  The moment when Blofeld blackmails the Generic Asians for a larger payment calls out for a little expository dialogue...and none comes.

10) The Ken Adams volcano set is pretty impressive--it netted Eon Productions an Oscar--but the film seems to engage in a little too much set porn as Gilbert lovingly goes over every nook and cranny of this area without much of a point.  There’s a particular moment near the end of Act Two where we just asked to take in this fortress for roughly five minutes before another drawn out scene in Blofeld’s sprawling office.  If they made these picturesque moments a little more streamlined, maybe the film would’ve flowed better.

Overall...not a great entry, mainly due to Dahl’s rather peculiar script, even though there are some great moments.  Not a good coda for this leg of the Bond series (although, to be fair, it’s a little better than either of Connery’s return to the roles).

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