How adapting Fleming’s Twice novel may be hard

Cover to the first-edition U.S. hardback edition of You Only Live Twice

This week, the blog published a post about issues related to reworking the plot of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service as a way to faithfully adapt Ian Fleming’s You Only Live Twice novel.

A reader e-mailed the blog should go a step further and discuss the difficulties in doing a faithful adaptation of the 1964 novel.

So, with that in mind, here’s a breakdown by chapter of what a screenwriter would need to examine. Fleming creates a mood by describing Bond’s inner thoughts and observations. The novel also was a major change of pace following the epic novel of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.

Chapter 1, Scissors Cut Paper: Bond and Tiger Tanaka are at a geisha party. They drink sake and play a game of scissors-rock-paper.

Bond is a bit uneasy. “Tiger had promised he would beat Bond. To fail would be to lose much face. How much? Enough to breach a friendship that had become oddly real between the two of them over the past weeks?”

The chapter ends with Bond at Tiger’s home to discuss a discrete matter.

Chapter 2, Curtains for Bond?: Flashback to previous events where Bond is a broken man following the events of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.

Chapter 3, The Impossible Mission: M, after consulting with Sir James Molony in the previous chapter, gives Bond a diplomatic mission. A lot of talking and exposition, not many visuals.

Chapter 5, Magic 44: The novel’s McGuffin is explained and why it’s important.

Chapter 7, The Death Collector: Plot twist. Tiger tells Bond there’s a fellow, one Doctor Shatterhand, who’s causing the Japanese government some discomfort by enticing those inclined to suicide. Much of the chapter is a list of types of poisons as well as poisonous plants.

Chapter 8, Slay It With Flowers: Tiger puts the proposition to Bond — kill the foreigner with his poison garden that attracts the suicidal. “You are to enter this Castle of Death and slay the dragon within.”

Chapter 11, Anatomy Class: Tanaka tells Bond about haiku poems and 17th century poet Bassho. Bond writes his own haiku: “You only live twice: Once when you are born, Once when you look death in the face.” Tiger tells Bond that “it is a most honourable attempt.”

Chapter 12, Appointment in Samarra: The chapter begins with a bit of action. Bond and Tiger are being followed by a man on a motorcycle. The tables are turned and a chase ensues. The motorcycle rider dies. A tattoo shows he is a Black Dragon.

Later, Bond discovers that Doctor Shatterhand, the target he’s been given by Tanaka, is really Blofeld.

You Only Live Twice first U.K. edition

Chapter 13, Kissy Suzuki: More details why Bond wants revenge on Blofeld and the scale of his villainy, which is on “the scale of a Caligula, of a Nero, of a Hitler or any other great enemy of mankind.” Bond also meets Kissy Suzuki.

Chapter 17, Something Evil Comes This Way: Bond has infiltrated the Shatterhand/Blofeld estate. He witnesses Blofeld’s guards torture a man before tossing him into a lake with piranha. Blofeld and Irma Bunt chat a bit. Blofeld suggests they may need to move on, establishing other places to entice suicides. “The same pattern can be repeated in other countries,” Blofeld says. “Everywhere there are people who want to kill themselves.”

Chapter 20: Blood and Thunder: Bond and Blofeld have their showdown. Bond escapes Blofeld’s castle via a balloon but after an explosion he drops into the sea.

Chapter 21; Obit: M writes Bond’s obituary for The Times of London. Skyall (2012) adapted this, substituting Turkey for Japan.

Chapter 22: Sparrows’ Tears: It turns out Bond is suffering amnesia due to head injuries. He’s settles down with Kissy but finds a scrap of paper with the word “Vladivostok.” The novel ends with Bond (unaware that Kissy is pregnant) planning to go to the Soviet Union.

This was loosely adapted in Skyfall. In that film, Bond simply quits MI6 (and goes off the grid) after being wounded by Moneypenny.

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