After “Thunderball”‘s undersea adventures, the next Bond film would adapt “You Only Live Twice”, in which Bond travelled to Japan to unravel the schemes of the mysterious Dr. Shatterhand (In fact his nemesis and widowmaker Blofeld, for the novel followed On Her Majesty’s Secret Service in the chronology)-which left him injured, amnesiac, and presumed dead until the following novel, The Man With The Golden Gun. (Some of the elements of this would be used in “Skyfall”, with Bond presumed dead after the opening sequence-although he certainly wasn’t amnesiac after, just very, very bitter).
The movie adaptation would keep some of these elements-Japan, Blofeld, Bond’s ally “Tiger” Tanaka, and Bond being presumed dead. However, it would do them in a radically different fashion, and the shatterhand angle would be dropped entirely (Although it can perhaps still be used for a future Bond film, as I’ve suggested in earlier posts). It would also deal, in part, with the cold war, something not really touched on since “From Russia With Love”. Also, whereas “You Only Live Twice” was pretty much the end of the Blofeld “trilogy” in the novels, You Only Live Twice would be the opening chapter, revealing the face of the villain for the first time.
It opens somewhat unexpectedly for a Bond film as well-in space! We see what appears to be a normal capsule orbiting in space, when suddenly, a massive rocket with soviet markings gobbles it up (and cuts off the air of a poor astronaut in the process), making the first ‘space death’ of the series (to be followed by many more in Moonraker).
The next scene is kind of a funny argument between the United States, Britain and Russia over the responsibility for the incident, in a globe-shaped building that kind of look like mini-Epcots (I’m guessing the design for the interior is the work of Ken Adam). It’s kind of a funny scene, with the US and Russia arguing and England-in the center-calmly trying to settle the situation by focusing on a faint trail in Japan, with their man in Hong Kong looking into it.
The man of course, is James Bond, and the woman he’s with, Ling. She’s played by Tsai Chin, a celebrated Chinese actress who would later return to Bond in “Casino Royale” as card player Madame Wu.
However, she unexpectedly flips the bed, and two men fire at Bond-two police officers who rush in to discover Bond dead. One of them is Anthony Ainley, who would later become the nemesis of a certain other British icon played by multiple actors…
Bond’s bloodstain blooms into the opening graphic and titles, which feature, in addition to Japanese women, and lot of volcano imagery, given the setting of SPECTRE’s base in this film.
Nancy Sinatra’s song is somewhat more low key than the more bombastic themes to Goldfinger and Thunderball, resembling in a few ways “From Russia With Love”, but with a touch of more Japanese instrumentation (This is also somewhat present in the gunbarrel as well). Nancy’s lyrics sort of change the meaning of the original novel phrase:
“You only live twice:
Once when you are born
And once when you look death in the face.”
“You Only Live Twice,
or so it seems; One life for yourself, and one for your dreams.”
To be fair, I’m not sure the first line would’ve worked well in this kind of song.
Nancy BTW is also known as the singer of These Boots Are Made For Walking:
and of course, as you can probably imply from the name, is the daughter of a certain Chairman of the board.
Unfortunately, Frank never made any Bond appearances, although another Rat packer did-sort of. Sammy Davis Jr. was to have a cameo in Diamonds Are Forever, but it was cut.
We see a newspaper with James Bond’s obituary. This wouldn’t be the last phony death notice for Bond, as we see in Tomorrow Never Dies and Skyfall (The Skyfall wording actually is partially based on M’s obit in the novel of You Only Live Twice.)
After his traditional naval burial at sea, Bond is recovered by frogmen from a submarine, who open up his wrappings-and it turns out Bond’s not really dead at all, just pretending so his enemies’s attention will be diverted from him.
This is the first time we see James Bond in a proper naval uniform, something we’ll see later on in The Spy Who Loved Me and Tomorrow Never Dies-two films that have quite a lot in common with this one (Same director for “Spy” too!). Lazenby and Dalton didn’t get the chance to, and Craig hasn’t donned the outfit yet either.
As an added bonus, we also get M and Moneypenny in the naval outfit too.
Turns out M has an office on this ship too (M is an admiral after all, although his real name-Miles-would not be revealed until The Spy Who Loved Me, along with Q’s), and he briefs Bond on the looming crisis and what they know, and to hurry before this thing turns into a full scale World War III. Bond also gets an unforgettable mission password from Moneypenny-“I love you”-and a book of Japanese translations-but Bond assures her that he took Oriental languages at Cambridge and knows his stuff-which is odd because he doesn’t seem to know Chinese in “Tomorrow Never Dies” at all, but this isn’t really a big deal. After all, this is a series where the lead changes actors and age with no explanation whatsoever, at least until the Craig films which are in a separate, “rebooted” continuity. It was pushing credibility a bit for the Bond in “Die Another Day” to be the same character that debuted with Connery. There’s also a brief conversation about Ling, implying that she was in on the “death”.
Bond is ‘torpedoed’ onto the coast of Japan (probably) because he’s still presumed dead, and therefore this is somewhat more secret than taking a plane, boat or car in.
Next: Bond arrives in Japan, meets Aki and Tiger, and also investigates Osato chemicals-a front for SPECTRE.