How Good Is It?
If Goldfinger was the point when Eon Productions realized they could succeed beyond anyone’s wildest dreams by just completely ignoring the Cold War in their spy films, You Only Live Twice was the point when they realized they could actually get away with ignoring all bounds of reality. Roald Dahl wrote the script for this movie and it is, unsurprisingly, absolutely batshit. I mean, what other word can describe a film about a plot to foment nuclear war by kidnapping astronauts from space, being run from a secret base hidden inside a volcano, defeated by a walking libido in bad yellowface and a bunch of goddamn ninjas. At one point the villain uses a collapsing bridge to dump a disappointing subordinate into a pool full of piranhas, and that barely cracks the top ten of most outlandish things in this movie.
Almost nothing that happens in You Only Live Twice could stand up to a moment’s scrutiny and it is absolutely fantastic (in multiple senses of the word). It’s one of the rare Bond films that I always want to watch again immediately after it ends. It’s a marvel of this film that despite its outrageous excess it never seems campy. It’s just earnestly telling a story that discards any pretense of making all its pieces fit, like a 10-year-old coming up with a preposterous narrative to explain why the Lego knights, astronauts, and ninjas are all in some scenario together (this is undoubtedly Dahl’s influence). The film goes from a private organization launching rockets out of a volcano to a vertibird stashed in four suitcases to a swordfight using classic Toho samurai choreography and somehow this all just seems perfectly reasonable at the time.
The acting is mostly workmanlike. Donald Pleasance does a wonderful “calm psychopath” voice while wearing an absurd scar (and thus dooming Telly Savalas and Christoph Walz to the same fate). Connery, who was about to check out of the series for the first time, does an uneven job. At one point Bond claims he “took a first in Oriental Languages at Cambridge”, but Connery’s delivery (e.g. “I like sackee”) turns that into a bit of a running joke. Whoever built the sets had real dedication, though. The volcano lair has rightfully etched itself into humanity’s collective cultural understanding.
After the interminable mishmash of Thunderball’s underwater shenanigans the action in this one is cleanly shot and the editing makes it possible to follow most of what happens even when the events themselves are ludicrous. The one real sin here is the helicopter fight, which is a bit tough to follow and runs long. Something about those helicopters also feels a bit prosaic against the grandiose preposterousness of the larger plot. What are helicopters to a movie where the villain self-destructs his secret dormant-volcano base so hard it actually erupts? God, I love this film.
How Gross Is It?
That will really depend on how well you put up with the “exotic” treatment of Japan, though to be honest this movie is less bad in that regard than, say, Lost in Translation. As for its handling of women, You Only Live Twice makes death the price of sleeping with Bond (thus, Kissy is the smartest woman in the film). Aki’s death in particular is kind of crappy, since she basically just bites it from rolling over in bed. However, the film does allow its female characters a degree of agency and heroism lacking in the previous few films, and Bond doesn’t kiss anyone against her will, so it’s relatively not so bad. It’s also good fun that Tanaka regularly takes the piss out of Bond over his raging libido.
How’s The Song?
The second motif in “You Only Live Twice” sounds like the most tryhard white-person-writing-“Oriental”-music crap you can imagine but everything else about this song is amazing. The sweeping string flourish to begin draws you right in so that Nancy Sinatra’s voice can put you under a spell. Definitely a top 5 Bond tune, and one of the prime contenders for the top spot.