Introducing James Bond: You Only Live Twice (1967)

If Goldfinger is my favorite Bond film, You Only Live Twice (1967) is easily the second favorite (and sometimes it even ties for first). How can I not love a movie that features space, a volcano, ninjas, all things Japanese AND James Bond on top of all that? I’ve always had something of a fascination with Japanese culture (and the language) and this film provides a beautiful glimpse into Japan in the mid-1960s.

That being said, the production was fraught with issues. Not least of which involved their star, who by now was considered the definitive James Bond (as the poster below proclaims). That was all well and good, but after five years in the role, Connery was more than tired of the constant media attention. And when the production set up in Japan, Connery found himself reluctantly thrust into a huge media spotlight, with crowds following him everywhere he went. Finding himself with no privacy, Connery finally became fed up and announced that this would be his last go-round as James Bond (of course this turned out to be not true, but that’s a discussion for Diamonds are Forever).

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Property of Eon Productions

The score was once again composed by John Barry, who also wrote the songs title theme “You Only Live Twice.” For the title sequence, the song was performed by Nancy Sinatra (Frank Sinatra’s daughter). The song is widely recognized for the striking opening bars of the piece; it is widely considered to be one of the finest Bond themes ever written. Barry said later that he tried very hard to incorporate the elegance of the Oriental sound into the music for this film (and I think he succeeded). “You Only Live Twice” has been covered many times: Coldplay, Shirley Bassey, Soft Cell and Robbie Williams (among others), have all released their versions of the song (or at least sampled the melody).

Introducing James Bond: You Only Live Twice (1967)

In keeping with the overall Japanese theme of the film, the title sequence prominently features two things: Japanese girls (presumably dressed as geishas, though I may be wrong, at the very least they are in traditional garb). It also features images of lava, alluding to the fact that Spectre’s lair (this time) is located inside a dormant volcano. Superimposed over these images are graphics that are reminiscent of Japanese umbrellas. I love Nancy Sinatra’s voice in this song, it’s so rich and clear that the song seems to just resonate within you (I think this might be the reason why this Bond theme sticks in my head the most.)

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Credit to Art of the Title

Some interesting trivia I’ve learned: in the screencaps of the credits, look in the bottom left: yes, that is the same Roald Dahl who wrote Matilda, The BFG, and all those other wonderful stories (I didn’t believe it at first when I was younger). Also, for those who have seen Spectre (2015) (and this may be a minor spoiler), Blofeld’s appearance at the end of that film is a direct homage to the character as seen in this film (no disrespect, but I think Donald Pleasance played the role best). Also, a good portion of the Japanese characters are all dubbed over (dubbing an actor over with another was a lot more common back in the day, there was nothing personal about it, it was just a normal practice of filmmaking). And speaking of Blofeld, the actor who plays Henderson in this movie will go on to play that villain in Diamonds are Forever (1971). Funny how that works, isn’t it? Oh, and one more thing. In the beginning of this film, Bond is seen in bed with a Chinese girl. That same actress appears in Casino Royale (2006) (she’s the Asian woman at the card table on Le Chiffre’s boat, if I remember the scene correctly).

Tomorrow will be a very interesting discussion with:On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969)

Check out the rest of the “Introducing James Bond” series here

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3 thoughts on “Introducing James Bond: You Only Live Twice (1967)

  1. ForeverOK

    Ah, just have to comment, re-living all the days of Bond. YOLT has been near the top of my Bond list, but after reflection, it’s my favorite Bond, for being just plain, hilarious fun. I like OHMSS for being the closest to Fleming’s Bond, Goldfinger for setting the 007 template, but YOLT now tops my list. 1/ The dialogue is priceless …”He wouldn’t touch that so and so girl!” “Oh, heaven forbid!” and Tiger gets many of the best; the lines just keep on coming, from Miss Moneypenny in the sub “I …. love …. you” to the last raft line “They’ll never find us” with Bond’s over the top enunciation. 2/ Tiger Tanaka, the best Bond co-upstart, with camp dubbed-voice, with his own ironic-Bonded glances and suave asides. What other Bond film has such a character, able to put 007 in his place? 3/ Japan. Specifically, the Japan of Fleming, colorful, cinematic, bigger than life. Freddie Young, of course had much to do with that. The Wedding, the shots of the Ama girls, and Bond rowing a boat …. this was as close to the novel the film would get. I played it for a Japanese Bond girl friend who was in the States the first time, and had never seen it. She said that during the Osato lobby scene, the guard said, “Hey, where are you going?” or something equally inane. 4/ Master John Barry is at his best. The Bond theme in Henderson’s garden is my favorite, with its pulsing bass. YOLT is the song that hits all the right notes (in more ways than one), from its wonderful rift to its lyrics…. I’m sure at least there Fleming would have approved. The score is the best of all the Bond films. 5/ The foreshadowing of today’s Edward Snowden state, with cameras everywhere 6/ Osato’s office needs special mention, too. Here Bond splats Dwayne Johnson’s grandfather (or great G?) in a beautiful, golden toned setting. Nowadays ‘Bond’ fights in ugly bathrooms. Love this fight most of all, although vote From Russian With Love’s train fight. But this one is fun, with sofa kung fu, sword play, and Bond nearly being nicked; plus the baddie doesn’t rely on his brute strength, and wisely picks up a sword. I was sorry to see him go, actually a rather nice fellow, lugging Bond up all that way, and easing his ‘pain’ on the car ride back. 7/ Bond films of that era were beginning the practice of logging on the latest fad. Here, we see Bond emulating Derek Flint, in the rooftop fight, the first Bond has ever splatted scores of bad guys with few weapons. 8/ Back to the score. When I visited Hong Kong and walked into a mall, a marching band was playing Bond themes … and yes they played YOLT! Hong Kong is a very Bonded city, and you can easily slip into character as the Theme plays in the head. I certainly did, as the futuristic train suaved from the airport into downtown Island side, in the dead of night, and then taking a swift, Bonded taxi up to Mid-levels hotel (“I know a nice hotel…”)…. thanks, EON. It’s doubtful anyone will ever make such a film that’s this much fun, corny and romantic.

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  2. Pingback: Introducing James Bond: Thunderball (1965) | Film Music Central

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