YOLT: All style and no substance?

edited December 2020 in Bond Movies Posts: 4,242
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James Bond in Japan:

The fifth James Bond film, 'You Only Live Twice', is something of a mild disappointment. Despite the film getting off to a promising start it eventually runs out of steam becoming rather creaky and dull. In the most part the movie itself is very entertaining and energetic, however, it does not possess the same wit, charm or suspense of the four previous Bond adventures. 'You Only Live Twice' packs so much into its two-hour running time you can't shake the feeling that the filmmakers were essentially throwing everything against the wall in an attempt to see what would stick. Subsequently many of the sequences on display do entertain but many falter and you can almost guarantee that an enjoyable segment will likely be followed by another dud scene or two. As a result there is a certain point in 'You Only Live Twice' when the whole affair becomes very difficult to invest or engage in and soon enough you simply have to acquiesce and let the whole film wash over you.

'You Only Live Twice' feels like a conscious attempt by the filmmakers to cater to a younger audience. I think for many people 'You Only Live Twice' was their entry-point into the series and for that reason the film gets a relatively easy ride as fans tend to look back affectionately at it.

The movie opens with a great conceit; 'killing' off 007 and thereby offering Bond the opportunity to operate incognito. Later Bond is thrust down the rabbit hole and into the neon wonderland of Tokyo. Gilbert realises these sequences excellently; there is a playful nature to the opening of the film as traditional sequences such as the Moneypenny and M briefing scenes are introduced with a new twist albeit familiar twist. Furthermore, the actual plot is truly exciting and the stakes are undeniably high as the prospect of another World War boils away.

While the picture may on the surface appear to be a rather empty-headed and vacuous affair, the film actually takes place in an interesting (albeit heightened) Cold War environment. The threat of a possible third world war was perennially in the air during this period as relations between the Russians and the Americans remained incredibly frosty. Furthermore, the infamous 'space race' was occurring at the time with both the superpowers battling for dominion within the stars. While 'You Only Live Twice' doesn't tackle these issues in any profound way (or have the balls to reveal the corrupt third party financing SPECTRE's plan), these events still provide an interesting backdrop for the film's more outlandish story.

The most exciting moments for me occur during the opening hour as Bond investigates the case around Japan and soaks in some of the local culture. There is plenty of fun to he had here as 007 attends a sumo fight, meets a mysterious woman, scraps in expensive offices and meets a seemingly threatening Japanese man who could be either friend or foe. The first hour is really great escapist entertainment in the tradition of the earlier Bond movies, sadly this momentum is squandered in the second half with the last great moment of the movie being the interrogation scene with Helga Brandt. But from there on the 'You Only Live Twice' does go somewhat off the rails and never fully recovers.

At this point, around an hour in, Bond disappears for approximately 10 minutes and the grand mystery over who stole the space-shuttle is revealed to the audience. I have no problem with these scenes mainly as we finally get a taste of quite how devious and cruel Bond's enemy is this time out. However, after these scenes we have to sit through the awful 'turning Japanese' segment. While it's no doubt interesting and undeniably gorgeous this whole portion of the film is totally unnecessary and grinds the momentum of the movie's plot massively to a halt.

At the point we the audience get ahead of Bond and discover Blofeld and SPECTRE are indeed behind the hijacking, therefore the film should attempt to make every effort to get Bond to the volcano as soon as possible. The hollowed-out volcano is essentially the star of the show and the filmmakers know it - so why wait around? Instead the film decides to meander around a Japanese village and introduce a totally superfluous character in Kissy Suzuki. As a result the second half of the movie gets off to a bad start, with it being plain to see that tighter scripting could have resolved some of these second act woes. However, as it stands the middle of the film is too baggy making 'You Only Live Twice' a rather messy and untidy film.


Ken Adam's work and other Technical Contributions:

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This film really belongs to the backroom players in particular the great Sir Ken Adam. Adam's sets are truly stunning and audacious, in particular I adore the designs he conjures up for both Osato and Tiger's offices. The production designer's crowning glory is of course the hollowed-out volcano, it's impossible not to marvel at the sheer scale of the set; not only can a helicopter fly in and out but a whole rocket gets launched out of it at one point! Adam is totally bonkers for dreaming up such a set but still an absolute genius for realising it so tremendously well. While the idea of a villain's headquarters being hidden beneath an inactive volcano may sound completely ridiculous conceptually, the real magic to Adam's design is quite how believable the set is to look at. There isn't a hint of pastiche with the design at all and despite being totally barmy the film takes the volcano sequences very seriously which is a testament to the tone of the piece. While Sean Connery's name may be front and centre on the poster its clear to me that Ken Adam is truly the star of the show in 'You Only Live Twice'.

In addition, John Barry's contribution with the score is excellent as is the title song hauntingly sung by Nancy Sinatra. As for the cinematography, Freddie Young brings the same stately and beautiful eye that he graced the silver screen with in his collaborations with David Lean. Also Bob Simmon's brilliant stunt coordination should be singled out, the energy he brings to those sequences is staggering and never do you feel that you're watching 'movie violence'. Instead all the fights are dirty and scrappy and you genuinely feel that each party is truly fighting to survive.

Technically speaking, the visual effects are the only element where the film is lacking. A short trip away from Pinewood Studios at Borehamwood, Stanley Kubrick's '2001: A Space Odyssey' was being filmed and next to the emerging standard of the time 'You Only Live Twice' pales in comparison.

Bond vs Blofeld:

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With so much going on behind-the-scenes it may be no surprise to learn that little attention is really placed in any of the characters in the picture. Many have stated over the years that Connery gives a bored and uninterested performance in the film. I feel the real issue for Connery's lack of interest comes down to the script failing to give him much to really do. 'You Only Live Twice' is too wrapped-up in it's own grand scale and as a result the character of Bond really falls by the wayside as the spectacle begins to take hold. The problem is not so much Connery's disinterest with the film and more the filmmakers disinterest in Bond.

Sean Connery is the main reason why the previous four films came together so well; he bought a cool animalistic sex-appeal to the role of 007 but here the character of Bond is neglected heavily. Aside from some great fight sequences (which Mr. Connery excels at) there is little else for him to really get his teeth into. It's a shame to waste such a talented actor especially as plenty of opportunities present themselves throughout the movie to better exploit him. Instead Bond is nothing more then a mannequin used to hinge the plot together. It isn't helped by the fact that Sean is really not channeling that same 007 insouciance and charm that he seemingly possessed in his earlier entries. In 'You Only Live Twice' he looks frumpier, puffier, his suits are ill-fitted and his hair often looks ruffled and unkempt. The Bond in 'You Only Live Twice' does feel something of a step down from the 007 we had met in previous outings.

This all means that Donald Pleasance comes dangerously close to stealing the picture. It is clear why his portrayal of Blofeld has become historically parodied as Pleasance brings a brilliant unsettling macabre and sinister feel to the villain. His Blofeld is a small, creepy and slimy individual and had he featured more in the film he would likely have walked away with the movie. However, as it stands the role is nothing more than a glorified cameo. After building up the character of Blofeld for three films, 'You Only Live Twice' should have made better use of the character and it seems a wasted opportunity to not let Pleasance reach his full potential.

I feel the one thing that Pleasance lacked in the film was a large dialogue scene with Bond. Much like Dr. No before him, Blofeld is introduced into the affair at a relatively late stage, however, in my opinion the good doctor made a much greater impression than SPECTRE's No.1. Had Blofeld been given a few more additional scenes to flesh out his character (possibly a chance to retire to his quarters before the rockets are launched so he could brag to Bond about his successes) I would happily hold Pleasance's portrayal of the super-villain in extremely high regard. Instead, I find it confusing that his Blofeld is so well loved by many fans considering the lack of characterisation he has in this film.

In addition, aside for Tetsurō Tamba's excellent performance as Tiger Tanaka, the other supporting characters barely register. In regards to Bond's leading ladies, Aki is confusingly killed two-thirds of the way into the film and Kissy's introduction seems like a last-minute substitute for Bond so he won't go a moment without a young woman draped on his arm. It's a strange decision to have made as both the characters are totally interchangeable and instead of producing two women to serve the same function the film would have been far more successful to combine the characters into one. Kissy's role is nothing more than a poor-man's Honey Ryder and far more dramatic opportunities present themselves with a character such as Aki. So while Aki's death may be a beautifully filmed sequence, you can't help but feel it comes at too high a price for the film's narrative and structure.

Summary

In summary, there is a lot to enjoy about 'You Only Live Twice'. Even as we get older and grow slightly more cynical about the film it's hard not to gleam some enjoyment out of it. However, within the Bond oeuvre it's most definitely a lesser entry and a growing disappointment.
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Comments

  • ThunderpussyThunderpussy N.Ireland
    Posts: 11,082
    True, when I was younger I loved the big epic Fantasy Bond films.
    YOLT, MR etc. Now a little older I much prefer the "closer to the books"
    Films like OHMSS, LTK or CR.
    That's not to say when I'm in the right mood, I still stick in the bluray
    And sit back to enjoy YOLT. :D
  • ThomasCrown76ThomasCrown76 Augusta, ks
    Posts: 757
    He looks so much better here than he did 4 years later
  • HASEROTHASEROT has returned like the tedious inevitability of an unloved season---
    edited January 2015 Posts: 4,379
    i like the way YOLT begins, and i like the way it ends... it's the middle part that i think moves really slow..

    when i first started getting into the Bond series, i remember borrowing the VHS from my Social Studies teacher, and i remember liking it - but even at that time (i think i was like 13 or 14 years old) and coming off watching GF and TB, i remember being like "it's good, but not great." ... as i got older i became more and more dissatisfied with it.... for me, a big part of a movie is pacing - and think YOLT has some pretty poor pacing throughout the middle of the movie, i think a lot of the acting is dodgy too..

    but this marked the first of several times in the series where a film tried to outdo the previous one, and maybe oversteps some of it's own boundaries ("jumping the shark" if you will), which ultimately leads a stripped down back to basics film as a follow up..
  • ThunderpussyThunderpussy N.Ireland
    Posts: 11,082
    Connery even looks better in The Anderson Tapes, filmed the same year. (71)
    I wondered if Connery didn't get too fit, in a way of showing the producers
    That even overweight, he was ( in the public's eyes) still Bond for DAF.
    As we know there was no love lost between them.
    In YOLT, I know some say Connery looked bored in it, but I feel he simply
    Didn't have much " Acting" to do, the sets, guns and girls were the stars
    Of YOLT.
  • Posts: 12,047
    I still enjoy YOLT, the only thing that tends to stand out like any other films is the visual effects. But to be fair they were cutting edge at the time.
  • edited January 2015 Posts: 11,175
    I haven't read the above piece yet but I really enjoyed YOLT when I last saw it a few months ago. It's got its faults and Connery has a noticeable double-chin but its solid escapism with an excellent Barry score and terrific sets.

    I'd say it has more good than bad. Better produced than DAF most certainly.
  • Posts: 1,810
    Espsically after reading the book. YOLT te movie becomes more disappointing as years go by.
  • Posts: 1,146
    I like this movie a lot. Is it as impressive as the first four films? Nope, but still a lot of fun. I sure would like to seethe Craig version of this setting though.

    The ending with all the ninjas is just awesome.
  • BirdlesonBirdleson San Jose, CAModerator
    edited January 2015 Posts: 29,777
    It is the first great divergence from the books, not only was the chronology of the classic "Blofeld Trilogy" irreparably fiddled with, but the bulk of the excellent source material was jettisoned. When EON tried to get back on track with ON HER MAJESTY'S SECRET SERVICE it was too late. Connery was gone and audiences expected more outlandish fantasy. If Connery had been given the same script in'67 that Lazenby was given in '69 we may seen whole different direction taken in the '70s. Can you imagine the end of the novel YOLT being translated into film and then followed up two years later in THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN, again sticking with Fleming's vision? What a wasted opportunity. Hey, maybe SPECTRE and BOND 25 will actually pull form those stories and that's what we'll get.
    Having said that, YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE is still a Top ten Bond film for me (barely). It does so much well, and, along with THE SPY WHO LOVED ME, is the epitome of iconic Gilbert epic Bond. It just could have been so much more. I first saw it in 1967 at a drive- in on a bill with THUNDERBALL, I loved. Still do, though not like I did then when I was 5.
  • mcdonbbmcdonbb deep in the Heart of Texas
    Posts: 4,116
    Who you calling old?! X(
  • BirdlesonBirdleson San Jose, CAModerator
    Posts: 29,777
    I'm sure that I'm older than all but a few of you.
  • Posts: 1,146
    Birdleson wrote: »
    It is the first great divergence from the books, not only was the chronology of the classic "Blofeld Trilogy" irreparably fiddled with, but the bulk of the excellent source material was jettisoned. When EON tried to get back on track with ON HER MAJESTY'S SECRET SERVICE it was too late. Connery was gone and audiences expected more outlandish fantasy. If Connery had been given the same script in'67 that Lazenby was given in '69 we may seen whole different direction taken in the '70s. Can you imagine the end of the novel YOLT being translated into tim and then followed up two years later in THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN, again sticking with Fleming's vision? What a wasted opportunity. Hey, maybe SPECTRE and BOND 25 will actually pull form those stories and that's what we'll get.
    Having said that, YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE is still a Top ten Bond film for me (barely). It does so much well, and, along with THE SPY WHO LOVED ME, is the epitome of iconic Gilbert epic Bond. It just could have been so much more. I first saw it in 1967 at a drive- in on a bill with THUNDERBALL, I loved. Still do, though not like I did then when I was 5.

    Yeah, I disagree. I don't think Sean should have come back after this picture, and I think EON should have been more supportive/patient with Laz instead of gooing for the gags and parody.
  • MajorDSmytheMajorDSmythe Still waiting for the Jena Malone Batwoman movie that's never going to be made.Moderator
    Posts: 11,613
    Though it is true that You Only Live Twice has slipped down my ranking, (from near the top 5 to just outside the top 10 at #12) I still have a certain affection for it. Afterall, YOLT was the first Bond film I ever watched.
  • bondjamesbondjames You were expecting someone else?
    edited January 2015 Posts: 23,883
    I agree with the premise of this thread. It does disappoint as I get older, and for me, on repeated viewings. I just saw it and DAF back to back, and interestingly, DAF seemed fresher and better paced (despite that movie's many flaws).

    YOLT just drags too much in the middle (especially in Japan in the ninja training section and during the wedding etc.). That combined with Connery's obvious boredom (he seems more bored here than in DAF IMO, despite looking much better here than in the latter movie) and the massive let-down of Blofeld's introduction (one of the great missed opportunities in the Bond universe after the amazing buildup in FRWL & TB) left me quite underwhelmed. I'm not a fan of Pleasance as Blofeld.

    Sure, it's one of the most iconic Bond films, but it's also one of the most ridiculed (due to Austin Powers). Despite its wonderful locations & cinematography, it furthermore has been remade many times (including TSWLM & MR) in a more modern way. Its bloat, inconsistent pacing and Connery's relatively lackluster performance knock it down a few notches for me despite all its positives (score, cinematography, locations, ambitious plot, set design etc).
  • Posts: 1,967
    I was never really keen on this one anyway, and yes it is disappointing. There are some decent moments - the pre-credit scene when Connery gets shot, the fight with the burly Japanese guy, the Ken Adam set - but overall the film looks very dated due to the awful effects, particularly the use of back projection screen during the car chase and helicopter chase, which is one of the low points of the series for me. This actually makes the film look older than GF or TB.

    I actually prefer DAF to YOLT. They are both the weakest Connery films (excluding NSNA), but DAF does have more enjoyable moments for me, and is far easier to watch overall.
  • doubleoegodoubleoego #LightWork
    Posts: 11,090
    I was never a big fan of YOLT but as I've gotten older, I appreciate it's entertainment value.
  • DaltonCraig007DaltonCraig007 They say, "Evil prevails when good men fail to act." What they ought to say is, "Evil prevails."
    Posts: 15,534
    and I think EON should have been more supportive/patient with Laz instead of gooing for the gags and parody.

    Then the franchise would have died in the mid to late 1970's.

  • 007InVT007InVT Classified
    Posts: 893
    I found this one just dull. It's nothing like the book and was a real shame. There are so many great scenes that could be done.
  • Posts: 2,341
    I had missed the film during its initial run in 1967. It was not until 1974 before I finally saw it. I was impressed at first but a couple of years later I saw it again and I must say I was not happy with it.
    Too farfetched, outlandish, OTT, Connery was uninspiring and fat and looked so bored during many of the scenes.

    Yes, I have to say that YOLT lost a lot of its luster. The soundtrack is still one of the best but as far as Bond films go...I rank it just below middle of the pack.
  • ThomasCrown76ThomasCrown76 Augusta, ks
    Posts: 757
    He wasn't fat in this movie. Seriously
  • HASEROTHASEROT has returned like the tedious inevitability of an unloved season---
    Posts: 4,379
    I think EON should have been more supportive/patient with Laz instead of gooing for the gags and parody.

    can't get more patient than a reported 9 picture deal that Lazenby was offered - which he turned down on the advice of his agent..
  • ThomasCrown76ThomasCrown76 Augusta, ks
    Posts: 757
    That's all on lazenby.
  • ThunderpussyThunderpussy N.Ireland
    Posts: 11,082
    On a recent interview posted here on mi6, Lazenby even said he was offered
    DAF, but turned it down. As he wasn't interested in acting as a career at the
    Time. :)
  • ThomasCrown76ThomasCrown76 Augusta, ks
    Posts: 757
    Then he shouldn't have done it in the first place. He wasted time and money just to end up the answer to a trivia question
  • ThunderpussyThunderpussy N.Ireland
    Posts: 11,082
    True, but the guy has Balls, to bluff your way in to an Interview, and land
    The lead role with no acting experience. That's something Bond would do. ;)
  • Posts: 12,716
    To answer the OP: absolutely. YOLT was one of my favourite when I first watched it at 12, and even years later I thought it was superior to DN, GF, most of Moore and all of Dalton's. Now I find it a poor, disjointed film, with some great parts, but on the whole rather stupid and completely derivative.
  • The film is massively disjointed. Here are some observations I made recently watching the film where I think improvements could have been made:

    - Is Blofeld really needed? Was YOLT really the right time to introduce Blofeld to Bond after all the pair share a great introduction scene in OHMSS which completely retcons their meeting in this film. Following this line of thought I think the film would have been improved if Blofeld's role was in a similar vein as FRWL and TB with Osato becoming the film's primary antagonist. Obviously in doing this the Osato part would need to be beefed up a bit and a new actor found but I think it makes better sense especially considering Blofeld's almost non-existent role in the film.

    - Don't kill Aki! Keep her alive let it be her and Bond who go to the island together and in doing so also completely cut out the Kissy Suzuki role from the script. I suppose Kissy could play a minor role as a local Ama girl who tells Bond about the mysterious volcano but nothing more. Aki should make it to the closing credits. In doing so you can completely cut out the wedding scene and the whole segment where Bond pretends to be Japanese which in turn cuts around 10 minutes out of the film thusly improving it's shoddy pacing.

    - More Blofeld issues: If the film truly feels compelled to keep Blofeld - then give him more to do! The film is screaming for a scene between just Blofeld and Bond. If Bond had discovered the volcano earlier in the second half of the film then Blofeld could potentially have had a large confrontation scene with 007. Wouldn't it have been cool to see Blofeld describe some of his background and how he put SPECTRE together to Bond? Maybe after this Bond could be locked away with the astronauts and together they could have plotted their escape.

    I feel already that if the producers adopted some of these notes YOLT would have been improved massively.
  • Posts: 1,146
    HASEROT wrote: »
    I think EON should have been more supportive/patient with Laz instead of gooing for the gags and parody.

    can't get more patient than a reported 9 picture deal that Lazenby was offered - which he turned down on the advice of his agent..

    Yes, quite the idiot. By accepting it, he would have maintained the awesome tone of OHMSS throughout the 70's.
  • Quite frankly, the whole premise that Blofeld could set up lair in a volcano, undetected and steal rockets from USA and USSR, undetected is quite ridiculous.

    Furthermore, for saying Tiger Tanaka was so smug in bringing Bond in, boasting about the perks of being head of Japanese Intelligence, he must have had more than just a bad day at the office. I'm pretty sure that he would have the very least got a pay cut for such levels of incompetence.

    That said, there were a few nice moments.
  • Posts: 532
    MartinAston said: Quite frankly, the whole premise that Blofeld could set up lair in a volcano, undetected and steal rockets from USA and USSR, undetected is quite ridiculous.


    Ridiculous pretty well applies to the plots of most Bond films. Since the plots are always foiled, I guess we could say those ridiculous schemes don't go undetected.



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