Thursday, November 5, 2020

You Only Live Twice

It's sort of a toss up between this and Goldfinger as my favorite Connery film.

You Only Live Twice is a amazing entry in the series despite the behind the scenes drama and this being the last we'll see of Connery in the role...kinda. The story follows Bond as he fakes his death for reasons I'm not entirely sure of, and starts working more undercover to find out exactly how and why several spacecraft from both America and Russia have disappeared which leads him to Japan to face off against SPECTRE one more time. The film already gets brownie points for being in Japan but regardless the story is one of the finer early entries in the series, with very good pacing, characters, and a true sense that it attempts and succeeds the climax of Thunderball. Before we talk performances this has to be brought up, Sean Connery gives a very muted performance and it was during the production of this film that he decided not to return again as James Bond. He became very disillusioned with the role and hated he didn't have any privacy during the shoot in Japan, which I can fully understand and I hold no grievance or ill will towards him for his decision. Even when you can tell his heart is not really in the performance this time around, he still has good shining moments and as his currently last bout as 007, he still does very fine work. We have a double dose of Bond girls with Akika Wakabayashi as japanese agent Aki, and Mie Hama as Bond's wife (more on that later) with both actresses doing very good work despite not being fluent in English at the time and work very well alongside Connery. Tetsuro Tanba as Tiger Tanaka is another highly welcome addition to the list of allies in this series and is a joy to watch bantering with James. We have another Fiona Vulpe-esque villain this time played by Karen Dor who while not having much screentime is still memorable and fun to watch, with special love going to her acting with a certain white cat loving mastermind. Yes, this is the movie where we finally come face to face with SPECTRE #1 Ernst Stavro Blofeld, played to perfection by Donald Pleasence, and it sort of further pushes the fact that this feels like a finale to the series in some ways as we finally face off with the villain that has been plaguing James since 1964 and I love everything about it. What I do not love is the filmmaker's decision to make Bond undergo plastic surgery to look like a japanese fisherman. I can't even believe what I just wrote. Why?? It serves no purpose, he has plastic surgery done to him which apparently comes right off after a dip in the ocean, takes a "wife" who is just Kissy another agent working for Tanaka, it makes less than zero sense and it's filler if I've ever seen it. However on a more positive note, the film looks great as we sample both urban and rural areas of Japan, with plenty of little touches of their culture throughout. Apparently Ian Fleming grew quite fond of the country and had a great curiosity and affinity for japanese culture while he was writing the novel of the same name, and you get a good sense of that in this film which of course I love. Plus it doesn't hurt that not only does this film have one of the most incredible sets ever produced in cinematic history but the volcano lair siege is most likely the best and most large scale climax we'll see for the entire series. Everything about that set was real, no matte paintings, no models, no trick photography, just a legit massive set with working monorail, simulated rocket takeoff, and control center that cost one million pounds then but would cost lord knows how much if they did it the same way. It is astounding, and I feel it was a crime tearing down Ken Adam's remarkable set after filming wrapped. The script was written by Roald Dahl who some might know for Charlie And The Chocolate Factory, Matilda, and James And The Giant Peach, who I felt did incredibly well and the director Lewis Gilbert knew how to shoot this movie with both excellent action sequences and gorgeous scenery. Excellent movie with only two hiccups in the grand scheme of things, and despite Connery's clear lack of caring at certain points his performance is really good. A slightly flawed movie that still rivals the gold standard. 4 stars, 8/10! So this was it for Sean Connery, the man who countless individuals claimed IS James Bond, so what do you do after the star has left to pursue other parts? Well we'll find out next time with the one hit wonder James Bond in On Her Majesty's Secret Service.

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