You Only Live Twice (1967)

<strong class="MovieTitle">You Only Live Twice</strong> (1967)

(Second viewing, On Blu-ray, September 2018) Bond goes to mid-sixties Japan in this fifth instalment (after a three-year break), and the film soon becomes one extended Orientalism riff. To be fair, Japan was considerably more exotic to Western audiences fifty years ago and the film wisely avoids much of the truly regrettable stuff. (Which isn’t to say that watching Bond doing in-universe yellowface isn’t mystifying, or that there isn’t a laugh or two in seeing the film laboriously explain what is a ninja.) The sexism is worse than the racism, but again there’s some slack to be cut given that the movie is fifty years old. Once you get past those problems, You Only Live Twice remains a strong Connery-era entry by codifying two of the series’ most defining icons: showing the scarred-face cat-petting villain Blofeld (later becoming Austin Powers’ Doctor Evil) and setting the climax in an underground lair in an extinct volcano. Add some spiffy space-age plot, a travelogue through then-mysterious Japan and you’ve got the making of a classic-formula Bond. (The script is from no less than Roald Dahl—and if you think that’s weird, check out who wrote the script for Chitty Chitty Bang Bang—who famously complained about the instructions he had been given regarding the number and nature of Bond Girls.) Bond doesn’t spend a single moment in England, but M and Q and Moneypenny all show up a few times to keep him on the right track. The special effects are ambitious and flawed, but the spirit of the sequences they serve is there. All things considered, You Only Live Twice remains a slight improvement over Thunderball. I first saw this film as a boy and remained mystified for a long time about the opening sequence and How could Bond actually come back from the dead?!?. The best thing about a jaded middle-age re-watch is that it now makes perfect sense that they faked his death, even if the specifics of the scene seem elusive.

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