For Fresh Eyes Only: You Only Live Twice (1967)
Maybe it’s because I thought that the last Bond movie that I watched, Thunderball, was such a boring mess, or maybe it’s because it had a ton of advancements in the SPECTRE storyline (we finally met Cat Man!), or maybe it’s just because it’s a really well made, exciting movie, but I really want to call You Only Live Twice my favorite Bond movie so far. I really want to, but it’s difficult.
I’ve shied away from discussing this series’ frequent and blatant mistreatment of women and various ethnicities because I really don’t think that I’m qualified to discuss these things, but I can’t do that for this one. One of the main plot points of this film is that James Bond, noted white British man played by white Scottish actor Sean Connery, dresses in full blown yellowface as a Japanese man. It’s embarrassing, and not even the first time this series has done something similar. It’s ultimately for a very small section of the movie, and not enough to totally kill it for me, but it is unforgivable and I couldn’t not address it.
Now that we’ve gotten that unfortunate racist garbage out of the way, I can actually talk about what I loved about this movie. There are a ton of things that I loved, and the movie’s plot is actually one of them. In what felt like a callback to Dr. No, we get a sci-fi plot that’s actually kind of smart, playing off of then-current political issues to misdirect you into believing that the Soviet Union was the main enemy, only to swerve later with the big reveal. The guessing game actually was very fun to follow, and it was made even better thanks to a beautiful setting. One of my favorite things about the Bond series is that it essentially turns into a travelogue at points. Jamaica, Turkey, and the Bahamas, among others, have all been showcased beautifully, and here Japan gets that treatment. Gorgeous neon cityscapes and scenic countryside, bathhouses and sumo halls, all of it looks great and adds a real personality to the film. And it helps that this movie is shot with a ton of style.
You Only Live Twice has the best action of the series so far. It’s clearly shot and competently edited in the most modern style yet. Gone are the sloppy sped up footage clearly stunt-doubled fistfights and the awkward closeup shootouts, replaced with more natural edits and easier to follow action. The early fight between Bond and a guard in an office space building is thrilling. Bond clearly doesn’t stand a chance against this much stronger guy so he hastily grabs whatever is around him, a whole couch, and uses it to keep the man away. It’s smaller scale but exciting and funny. On the opposite end of the spectrum, the film’s bombastic climax, a totally nuts shootout between armies of SPECTRE guards and Actual Ninjas. I never lost track of the action even though it was so chaotic, once again thanks to more deliberate editing and shot composition.
As stated, the film is beautiful to look at and feels totally fresh. Thunderball was a bloated slog, Connery and director Terence Young were noticeably bored. The opposite is true here, and I peeked and am so happy to see that this isn’t the last Lewis Gilbert directed Bond movie. One thing that I totally dropped the ball in not mentioning during my Goldfinger write-up was Shirley Bassey’s iconic theme song for the film. I felt terrible as soon as I realized it and felt I had to shoehorn talking about how great it is somewhere, but it does lead into the equally great theme for You Only Live Twice by Nancy Sinatra. And the tradition of jaw-dropping themes paired with awesome opening credits continues.
As far as I know, this is the last Bond film to star Sean Connery until he comes back for the unofficial one. It feels weird especially considering that Blofield is still out there, shit, I forgot to talk about Blofield. The Cat Man is more than a pair of arms and a disembodied voice finally, and he’s awesome. I finally know what Dr. Evil is a direct parody of. Anyway, bye Sean Connery. Next week I’m taking the first of several planned detours to further explore the James Bond Extended Universe (JBEU), where I will be taking a look at the 1967 Casino Royale, which I think is a parody starring Woody Allen? So I’ll have more controversial content to clunkily dance around. Can’t wait!
Marcus will return in For Fresh Eyes Only: Casino Royale.