The Chronicles of SPECTRE Part IV: You Only Live Twice

You Only LIve Twice poster

You Only LIve Twice poster

By Nicolas Suszczyk, Guest Writer

Based on Ian Fleming’s penultimate novel, 1967’s You Only Live Twice features the SPECTRE organization as the main villain plus the same Japanese locations and characters as in the 1964 book.

Still, scribes Roald Dahl and Harold Jack Bloom went further and discarded the darkness of the novel by bringing the protagonist and the antagonist on the same setting, but with a more extravagant and actual plot: the Space Race, very much like the first Bond film, Dr. No.

While James Bond fakes his death as part of a staged MI6 operation, America blames Russia for the abduction of a space capsule, an operation executed by a mysterious spacecraft with the USSR insignia.

British intelligence noted echoes of that spacecraft coming down in Japan, where the “deceased” 007 is sent to investigate. Bond will discover that, of course, SPECTRE was behind it all, and this time, he comes face to face with the organization’s leader.

Bond’s contact with SPECTRE comes through the corrupt Japanese businessman Osato (Teru Shimada), who provides chemicals for SPECTRE and has the organization’s Number 11 Helga Brandt (Karin Dor) posing as his secretary.

Captured while investigating Osato’s Ning-Po vessel in Kobe, Bond seduces Helga and manages to escape with her help, but she betrays him and, unsuccessfully, tries to kill him.

Soon, we get to see the new SPECTRE headquarters –- inside an inactive volcano in Japan! Clearly, the organization has made a lot of money from its criminal and terrorist activities conducted in the two years between Thunderball and You Only Live Twice.

As SPECTRE’s Bird 1 spacecraft captures a Soviet capsule and imprisons its astronauts (or “cosmonauts”), we meet again with Number One. Once again, we only get his hands stroking his cat.

He has a bank account in Buenos Aires and asks some money in advance from two of his clients who would benefit after the war is broken between the U.S. and the USSR. Number One he observes how his piranha fish can eat a man to the bone in 30 seconds. He provides a demonstration. Helga Brandt is feed to the piranhas after she failed to kill 007, much like Largo’s henchmen Quist in Thunderball or Kronsteen in From Russia with Love.

First the U.S. blamed Russia, now Russia blames the US. The clock is ticking.

With the aid of his “wife,” Japanese agent Kissy Suzuki (Mie Hama), James Bond investigates a cave where an ama fishing girl was mysteriously killed. He eventually reaches the volcano and, observing a helicopter went landed inside it, the team decides to investigate.

As Kissy seeks the aid of his boss of Japanese intelligence, Tiger Tanaka (Testuro Tamba), Bond gets inside the volcano base, rescues the astronauts and tries to sabotage the Bird 1, but he is discovered by Number One.

“Allow me to introduce myself, I am Ernst Stavro Blofeld,” the leader introduces himself to the captured Bond, showing the face of the first credited actor to portray him: Donald Pleasence.

Despite the frightening scar around his right eye, Pleasence’s Blofeld seems less threatening than the mysterious Anthony Dawson/Eric Pohlman character that ordered death sitting on his throne.

Blofeld still has some memorable quips towards Bond as he shows him how the hidden machine guns in the crater terminate some of Tanaka’s ninja men. “You can watch it all on TV, it’s the last program you’re likely to see.” He also seems to be intellectual, by quoting Shakespeare’s Macbeth as he says his hideout is “impregnable”.

But, just like Macbeth, his hideout isn’t impregnable enough when Tanaka’s men get to infiltrate the volcano and a fantastic battle ensues, where 007, after beating Blofeld’s bodyguard Hans (Donald Rich), manages to destroy the Bird 1 spacecraft seconds before another American craft is captured.

SPECTRE’s plans went from toppling space rockets to trying to provoke World War III. Its base of operations expanded from a building in Paris (in Thunderball) to a hidden volcano in Japan. Much of the same characteristics remain: a beautiful female agent (Helga Brandt) and a well-built henchman (Hans). The price for failure of betrayal is still death and nobody is forgiven.

But the most important aspect of You Only Live Twice regarding the organization is that, from now on, SPECTRE loses identity. SPECTRE is now Ernst Stavro Blofeld and the leader assumes the role of the villain more than the organization.

As a matter of fact, we’ll see how in the two other remaining films (On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and Diamonds Are Forever) the organization is barely mentioned and Blofeld takes the lead as the main nemesis.

In the following entry we’ll see Bond getting personal with Blofeld as George Lazenby took over the role of Ian Fleming’s spy in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, released in 1969.

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One Response

  1. I thought this was one of my favorite Bond films. But now I rate it number One! It is light hearted, yes. I like OHMSS as a ‘Fleming Bond’ but YOLT hits the high water mark as wonderful escapism at its most fun. We have the great Freddie Young; Fleming’s Japan — glittering, colourful… no other Bond film has such locations. Tiger Tanaka is Bond’s best sidekick, who is 007’s equal in suavity, actually more so, since he is ‘exceptionally well cultivated.’ John Barry writes his most iconic Bond title song; the rift is classic, up there with Bette Davis Eyes, Pretty Woman, etc. etc. Sweeping vistas such as ‘one golden day’ with the ama girls, Bond rowing in the sunrise… when Bond first sees Kissy, and Barry zeros in with the violins, isn’t that one of the most romantic shots in cinema? Splendid action, the fight in Osato’s office (and here we have Bond fighting in a glittering Ken Adam set, too, not in a bathroom like Daniel whatshisname: it’s tough, humorous, fast … I like It better than the Red Grant fight; plus, it has the uncle or something of “The Rock.” Further, we have the omniscient cameras, foreshadowing today’s society, very 1984. Connery looks a bit chubby, and lackluster… but I like to think he’s channeling legendary Japanese swordsmen …. just Zenning through the action. Although the tech may date it somewhat, it still looks fresh, especially in the non-tech scenes of Japan. But Bond looks classic in his suits… Tiger has some of the best lines, as does Blofeld and Aki and Kissy: “He wouldn’t touch that horrible girl.” “Oh, heaven forbid.” “We’re supposed to be married!” “This is business. You gave false name to priest!”

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