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Review: 'You Only Live Twice' (1967) Dir. Lewis Gilbert

Updated: Aug 20, 2021

Sean Connery, Akiko Wakabayashi, Mie Hama, Tetsurō Tamba, Donald Pleasence, Karin Dor, Bernard Lee, Lois Maxwell and Desmond Llewelyn


Returning to the evil roots of SPECTRE for the Connery era helped once again set new standards for cinematic villainy...

When a US spacecraft is hijacked from its orbit, the USA point the finger at the Soviet Union and see it as an act of war. However, MI6 feel otherwise and send James Bond (Connery) to Japan, as that was where an unidentified space shuttle landed.

There, he teams up with the head of the Japanese Secret Service, Tiger Tanaka (Tamba) and operative Aki (Wakabayashi) to dig deeper into the sighting of the craft and it’s location in the Sea of Japan.

Bond comes across the shady businessman Mr Osato (Shimada) and his right-hand woman Helga Brandt (Dor), who are actually agents of SPECTRE. Ernst Stavro Blofeld (Pleasence) is at the heart of the evil plan, hoping to instigate World War 3, and only 007 can stop him...

With James Bond fever well under way, where was the next pace on Earth to conquer in his adventures? The Far East. And how better to put the icing on the cake of previous films? Finally introduce the mysterious Ernst Stavro Blofeld and the tangled web of SPECTRE in all it’s glory. Donald Pleasence brings gravitas and unmistakable ruthlessness to the role by keeping his manner calm, collected and free from ham. A character and role lampooned or replicated a dozen times in the history of cinema, but never bettered.

Once again the crew up their game and bring us fresh ideas in a way that makes watching James Bond pure escapism. It’s impossible to not think about James Bond in general and not the iconography featured here; not content with the majesty of the Aston Martin DB5 from ‘Goldfinger’ as a peak of Bond’s transport, here we have the Little Nellie gyrocopter taking part in its own thrilling dogfight and flown by pilot and creator Ken Wallis.

Revolutionary, ingenious set design by the late Ken Adams gives us a simple hollowed out volcano, but turns it into a place to hide space rockets and an entire SPECTRE army, all with practical effects and contraptions.

Director Lewis Gilbert and cinematographer Freddie Young also gives us some gorgeous locations to feast our eyes on such as the Himeji Castle, the Kobe Docks and Ginza, in Tokyo.

While it was announced Sean Connery would be stepping down from the role after pressure and privacy were in short measure, he never-the-less does the job as expected, a more mature look to his super-spy now, but still able to fight the fight and charm the ladies in good measure. And with ladies in mind, Akiko Wakabayashi and Mie Hama are a welcome Eastern addition to the Bond Girl canon, with a simple grace and beauty to their roles and some good action to get involved in. Karin Dor brings another villain to the table, but not as memorable or ruthless as ‘Thunderball’s Helga Brandt.

Still, the majority of Asian cast do nothing but help create a real exotic look and feel of international espionage around our Western 007 and introduce him, and the audience, to many delights (and dangers) of the Far East. Again, this is maintained by wonderful attention to detail in set design, the soundtrack, action sequences and wry humour; the essential Bond cocktail for an entertaining, globe-trotting thriller.

We also get a cracking all-out battle between good and bad in the finale, with stuntwork a plenty and pyrotechnics going off around the whole place and the John Barry / Monty Norman theme twanging out on that guitar.

It’s not one of the most memorable stories in the Connery era of films, but thanks to the developing set design, escapism and use of gadgets, vehicles and characters, it remains a very iconic offering. It even lends the sultry strings from Nancy Sinatra’s ‘You Only Live Twice’ theme to the 1999 Robbie Williams hit ‘Millennium’, introducing some 007 music to a new unaware generation.

With never-before-seen practical sets, vehicles and stunts, James Bond continued to push the envelope for what the series could deliver and managed to encapsulate what secret agents and super villains were meant to be.

'You Only Live Twice' is an EON Productions production

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