You Only Live Twice, the fifth movie in the James Bond series, has been showing up on T.V. lately, so I figured it was time to offer a proper review and some commentary on mid-1960s Japan. The plot, mind you, really has nothing to do with Japan--it just happens to be the location from which arch-enemy Ernst Stavro Blofeld is launching ships into space that gobble up American and Soviet spacecraft in the hopes of provoking the two super powers into another world war.
Plot aside, it’s also clear the producers wanted to explore some of the mystery and intrigue of the Land of the Rising Sun. Released in 1967, You Only Live Twice is the first Bond film with an Asia-centric setting. A 27-year remove from World War II provided enough historical distance for old wounds to heal. Unbeknownst to the rest of the world, a game-changing revolution was underfoot. Viewers were introduced to brands like Toyota, Sony, and Toshiba that, within 10 years, would come to dominate the consumer landscape...and never really look back.
The producers also did everything possible to play up cultural peculiarities. Sumo wrestling and ninjas are both featured prominently (though not in direct combat!), and there seems to be an overabundance of kimono and yukata wearing among females.
Here are some of my favorite moments, followed by the original theatrical trailer.
- John Barry’s beautiful soundtrack and title song (by Nancy Sinatra--enjoy here). Even better is the way Barry mixes the melody into the movie soundtrack.
- Bond asksing Ling, his first love interest, “Why do Chinese girls taste different from all other girls,” followed by, “Peking Duck is different from Russian caviar, but I love them both.”
- Yukata-clad spies, priceless scenes of mid-1960s Tokyo, a genuine sumo match, and Aki’s Toyota 2000GT “Bond Model”—one of only two built as a convertible
- Henderson, Mi-6’s man in Tokyo, getting stabbed to death through a paper wall. Shouldn’t a man of such high profile live in more secure environs?
- Tiger Tanaka, head of the Japanese intelligence agency, shuttling under Tokyo in a private subway car and assuming that M has similar accommodations in London. When Bond says he prefers his sake served at the correct temperature--98.4 degrees Fahrenehit--Tiger compliments, “For a European, you are exceptionally cultivated.”
- Tiger stating, “In Japan, men always come first. Women come second,” and Bond replying, “I might just retire here.”
- Aki saying to Bond, “I think I will enjoy very much serving under you.”
- The Hotel New Otani being retrofitted to serve as Osato Chemicals HQ.
- Ninjas! Tiger’s showpiece agents train at classical swordplay and the art of deception, while the modern ninjas practice indoors with guns and other Q-branch inspired gadgets.
- Bond-san getting plastic surgery so he can go undercover as a local in a small fishing village. An all-female surgical team (conveniently dressed in swimsuits) performs the procedure.
- Aki getting poisoned, which I guess proves that you only live once, after all.
- Tiger saying that Bond’s new wife has “the face of a pig.”
- Kissy Suzuki, Bond’s new Japanese wife. (In the pantheon of ridiculous Bond Girl names, this is an all-timer, but I still give the nod to Chu Mi, who Bond encounters seven years later in Thailand in The Man With the Golden Gun).
- Bond refusing a plate of oysters once Kissy informs him their mock marriage will be all business, including separate beds. (Don’t worry, they’re sucking face by the next morning.)