You Only Live Twice (Lewis Gilbert, 1967, UK/Japan)

               You Only Live Twice, James Bond’s excursion into the exotic world of Japan, is perhaps the most beautifully photographed of the early Bond films. The cinematography by Freddie Young is truly incredible, capturing the beautiful gardens, temples, and volcanoes of Kagoshima prefecture. YOLT set the standard for the notion of Bond films as travelogues for exotic locales. What it has in abundance in visuals, Lewis Gilbert’s film lacks in terms of story. This is surprising, given that the film was the first in the Bond franchise to largely dispense with Ian Fleming’s source material, instead only keeping a number of characters and plot details. It is also surprising given the talented writer behind the screenplay of You Only Live Twice – Roald Dahl.

               The film divides Bond fans, while some calling it one of the greatest in the Bond canon, and others calling it one of the worst. It is easy to understand both points of views. On the one hand, the production values are incredibly strong – great stunt sequences, great music, and incredible sets. On the other hand, YOLT represents the vision of Bond that was most easily parodied in films like Austin Powers. Connery, who would retire from the role after this film, was clearly losing interest in the role. And the long sequence involving Bond’s training at a ninja camp and a fake marriage to a Japanese woman, while pretty to look at, seems mostly like filler material.

               Overall, You Only Live Twice set the template for some of the worst excesses of the franchise, while at the same time raising the bar on production value. Notably, the film was the first in the Bond franchise to make less than its predecessors, as the late 1960s saw a glut of spy films, even including the non-official Bond film Casino Royale.



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