You Only Live Twice,Once when you’re born,: And once when you look death in the face.-Ian Fleming
You Only Live Twice, novel-wise, ends the SPECTRE/Blofeld trilogy of novels. However, film-wise, it starts them. Although Bond faced agents of SPECTRE in the films of Doctor No, From Russia With Love and Thunderball, he has yet to meet their mysterious leader.
In both cases, Blofeld’s plot involves Japan, where in the novel, he has fled from Europe after killing Bond’s wife Tracy in ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE, assumed the alias Dr. Shatterhand, and operates the poisonous “Island of death”. In the film, his plan is somewhat more ambitious and certainly more cinematic, as he uses a massive rocket hidden in a volcanic island to steal US and Russian orbiters, hoping to cause World War III.
Bond’s “Death”-the reason for the title-is also extremely different in both versions. In the novel, Bond is injured in the climactic showdown with Blofeld, causing him to develop amnesia and briefly live as the husband of the girl who helped him out, Kissy Suzuki, before he is captured by the KGB who then brainwash him (leading to the next novel, The Man With The Golden Gun). In the film’s teaser, Bond is apparently shot and killed in Hong Kong, but in fact this is a clever ruse so that Bond can kind of not be on the radar of SPECTRE and other enemies.
In both cases, Bond’s mission takes him to Japan, where he is helped by Dikko Henderson, who helps Bond get used to the local culture in the novel, but mainly just gives him some useful intel in the film before getting killed off (Although the death allows Bond to trace the killer to the Osato company, who are working with SPECTRE).
Bond is also aided by Tiger Tanaka, head of the Japanese secret service. Like in the novel, Tanaka’s forces utilize not only modern techniques, but ancient Ninja ones as well. Although his reasons for helping Bond are different-in the novel, he’ll give Bond important Russian intel if he takes out Dr. Shatterhand; in the film, he mainly helps him find out what SPECTRE’s up to in Japan.
In both cases, Bond goes undercover as a Japanese islander, posing as the husband of an “Ama” (Japanese Pearl diving) woman (and Tanaka’s agent) Kissy Suzuki in order to get closer to Blofeld’s mysterious island.
In both cases, Bond uncovers Blofeld, although with different motives and outcomes. In the novel, once he realizes that Shatterhand is in fact, Blofeld, he eventually gets his revenge on the criminal by strangling him and destroying his castle and garden of Death. (Of course this injures Bond as well as I outlined earlier). Whereas in the film, it’s their first meeting, and Blofeld narrowly escapes, and returns to pester Bond in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, Diamonds Are Forever, and finally For Your Eyes Only; he returns in the reboot continuity of the series in last year’s SPECTRE.
At the end of the novel, Bond is presumed dead by M and he writes an obituary for the agent. This is very similar to what happens at the beginning of Skyfall, where Bond is presumed dead following an accidental shot and falling from a great height.
In both cases Bond of course lives his own life for a while; in the first because he’s amnesiac and doesn’t know who he is or that he’s an agent, and the second, well, because he’s injured, tired, wasted and furious at M’s call to “take the bloody shot”, and hence wants to lay low-until a crisis at MI6 brings him back into the fold.
Both the rest of Skyfall-and the novel version of The Man With The Golden Gun, which I’ll cover next-will see Bond rise from the dead…