Reviews of movies from my giant DVD tower, and more.
Released in the UK and in the US on June 13, 1967
Directed by Lewis Gilbert
Written by Roald Dahl, based on the novel by Ian Fleming
Cast: Sean Connery, Akiko Wakabayashi, Mie Hama, Tetsuro Tamba, Teru Shimada, Karin Dor, Donald Pleasence, Bernard Lee, Lois Maxwell, Desmond Llewelyn, Charles Gray, Burt Kwouk, Tsai Chin
The Bond franchise stumbles a bit as, sadly, the early Sean Connery era comes to an end. Here, Connery is back for a fifth go-around as British secret agent James Bond, who is sent to Japan after his superiors at MI6 fake his death (hence the title) so he can covertly investigate the puzzling disappearances of orbiting US and USSR spacecraft; of course, SPECTRE is involved, as is nemesis Ernst Stavro Blofeld.
Series newcomer Lewis Gilbert took over the directorial chores from Terence Young, and like the Young-directed Thunderball before it, Gilbert had You Only Live Twice playing out fresh, exciting, and respectable, with an intriguing pre-credit sequence, some straightforward and authentic espionage scenes, a great fight in a downtown Tokyo office building, and Bond witticisms that were short, sharp, and to the point. His camerawork and framing weren’t bad, either, and showed a nice level of common sense restraint. Unfortunately, all of this lasted for about an hour, when suddenly the story—along with our attention—just withered and died.
Why, with such potential, was the film’s second half unable to keep pace with the first? For my money the blame should be placed entirely on screenwriter Roald Dahl (Roald Dahl? The guy who wrote children’s stories? Are you kidding?), who for whatever reason ditched the initial common sense tone of his screenplay—and anything related to Ian Fleming’s novel, actually—and concentrated instead on such waywardness as Bond’s transformation into a Japanese fisherman (for cover), his staged wedding to a local girl (again for cover), and his involvement in a fast-track ninja training class, which was slapdash and quite unnecessary; you’re a secret agent…just go in and take care of business!
The screenplay’s main conceit was a bit far-fetched, too, even for this series: a SPECTRE rocket not only takes off undetected from Japan and swallows enemy capsules in space, but returns to Earth undetected and lands upright in a dormant volcano. Add to that the atrocious process shots that took me right out of the action, and the hyperactive yet ho-hum battle inside the volcano at the conclusion, and you have my least favorite of the first five Bonds. Yet with all that, I would have to say that this is necessary viewing if you’re a fan of the films; otherwise, there are better ones to be searched out and enjoyed. (6/10)