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  You Only Live Twice Space RaceBuy this film here.
Year: 1967
Director: Lewis Gilbert
Stars: Sean Connery, Akiko Wakabayashi, Mie Hama, Tetsuro Tamba, Teru Shimada, Karin Dor, Donald Pleasence, Bernard Lee, Lois Maxwell, Desmond Llewelyn, Charles Gray, Tsai Chin, Peter Fanene Maivia, Burt Kwouk, Michael Chow, Ronald Rich, Robin Bailey, Ed Bishop
Genre: Action, Thriller, Science Fiction, Adventure
Rating:  8 (from 4 votes)
Review: The American space mission is going well, with a space walk being carried out, but what's this? Something on the screens indicating that there is another craft approaching? A much larger craft that the astronauts see is opening up like a mouth and swallowing their pod, cutting the line that the unfortunate spacewalker needs to survive, killing him? Back on Earth, there is consternation as the Americans accuse the Soviets of deliberately sabotaging their mission, but the British are not so sure. They have a man headed to Japan to investigate where they think the enemy craft has landed - but James Bond (Sean Connery) has just been shot dead...

No, of course he hasn't, it simply appears as if he has, but this neatly sums up the theme of deception that is carried through You Only Live Twice, the fifth Bond movie. It was scripted by famed short story writer and children's author Roald Dahl, and many fans couldn't help but notice the liberties he took with Ian Fleming's source novel, changing it so much that it could almost be considered a Dahl original. So if there are some coarser double entendres, or some routine fates for the characters, then he was the one to blame, but funnily enough the result was one of the most quintessential Bond movies of Connery's run.

Despite growing tired of the character, you wouldn't know it from Connery's confident performance, although the less charitable might say this was because he could essay the role in his sleep by now. Here he springs into action after his prematurely announced demise, a ruse to allow him to go deep undercover, and it's not long before M (Bernard Lee) has dispatched 007 to Japan posing as a businessman. First he has a too-brief meeting with Charles Gray who tells him to see secret service agent Tiger Tanaka (Tetsuro Tamba) before getting murdered, but first Tiger has to want to see Bond before they can meet.

Luckily, there is a contact, and she is Aki (Akiko Wakabayashi, nearing the end of her acting career while still in her twenties) who speeds around in an open-topped sports car (Bond doesn't really get to drive in this one, not even in the requisite car chase) and picks him up when he is about to be assassinated. Poor old Aki gets something of a raw deal seeing as what happens to her halfway through the film, and she is replaced with an identikit agent who has exactly the same characteristics, Kissy Suzuki (regular Toho star Mie Hama). But if the personalities are rather drawn from stock, this is not a fatal flaw, as the entire production seems to be thumbing its nose at the countless pretenders to the Bond franchise that had arisen during this era, showing them how to do it right.

Then there's that whole "I am not who I appear to be" angle that runs through the story, going from Bond posing as a civilian and eventually being made up to pass for Japanese, even though he looks exactly the same, to the secret location of the bad guys' lair which is cleverly hidden, in fact concealing one of designer Ken Adam's most impressive sets, both vast and expensive-looking. Say what you like, the money - and this was very high-priced for its day - is all there on the screen. So You Only Live Twice is not so much about second chances as you might expect from the title, but when you get down to it it's really about besting the bad guys and preventing that old worry, all-out nuclear war. And the head bad guy, though too-sparingly used, is a superb Donald Pleasence as Blofeld, one of many pleasures in a film that might not have broken down any barriers but did highlight how nobody did it better when it came to international spy movies. This was a true archetype, and one of the most purely enjoyable Bond movies. John Barry's score was one of his finest, with a great theme song sung by Nancy Sinatra.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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