(From Blurred Productions)
Bond Actor: Sean Connery (Age:37)
Women Slept With: 3
Villain’s Evil Scheme: To steal Soviet and American spaceships with their own spaceship that eats spaceships to incite nuclear war between the two super powers.
To say that You Only Live Twice is a racist film would be an understatement. Certainly Bond has fought Asian villains before this film, and with the exception of Dr. No (played by a white British man) they’ve all been silent and completely without redeeming characteristics. What sets YOLT apart is the unending run of Japanese and Chinese stereotypes you’re presented with. Gems like “In Japan, men come first, women second!” to which Bond replies “I should retire here!” pop up frequently, along with the implication that all Japanese soldiers are actually Ninja. Bond is required to “become a Japanese”, which seems to involve taping back his eyes, putting on a wig, and tanning his skin, and then marry a Japanese girl. Incidentally, I guess this means Bond’s married already when he gets married in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (No wait, apparently he used a false name, so its void. You’re all class James)? Not that plot holes are uncommon in this series. Add to it the cavalier misogyny one has come to expect from a Bond film (When Bond’s love interest is killed, she’s replaced with another woman that looks just like her but with even less personality as if nothing had happened) as well as the campy action and silly plot, and you’ve got quite a movie experience.
Let’s stretch my imagination and accept a spaceship that eats other spaceships as plausible. Or that a mini-gyro copter can take on 4 fully armed attack choppers. This film is still filled with too many dumb plot points. Why again did Bond need to get married? How exactly did Bond fake his death, was the whole Chinese thing a MI6 set up? Why don’t they explain that further? Why do the Japanese commandos spend all their time with ninja training when they make a frontal assault on a fortified facility, then use machine guns? Why does the assassin trying to kill Bond use a string and poison that Bond can lazily roll away from when he could just stab him? Why do we have to watch the stupid “Japanese” transformation when Bond initiates a massive aerial fight within a few hours of reaching the island? I think my favorite is that the elusive and mysterious head of Japanese intelligence “Tiger” Tanaka is located in maybe half a day by Bond.
Really there are only two redeeming things about this movie. Donald Pleasence, as silly as his plan is for world domination (wouldn’t nuclear war leave nothing left to rule?), is one of the creepier and intimidating Bond Villains to show up. Even standing a head shorter than Bond and petting a cat he is intimidating, implacable and menacing to the point that there is no question that he is a fitting figurehead for the SPECTRE organization. Even as he shoots his own henchmen rather than kill Bond it doesn’t make him seem cartoony or foolish, and Pleasence completely lives up to the disembodied figure that has been behind the scenes of so many of the films so far. The other redeeming point is the amusing death of Bond’s MI6 contact in Japan, who is killed through the walls of his home, illustrating one of the many drawbacks to paper walls, along with poor insulation and no sound-proofing. I don’t really know if that should count, given that it isn’t meant to be a comic moment.
I’m not sure whether it was screenwriter Roald Dahl, the Broccoli-Saltzman production team, Ian Fleming, or British culture in general that makes Bond so anti-Asian, but this movie is the highwater mark for Eastern aimed racism. That it set a lot of the stereotypes parodied in Austin Powers (Volcano lair, bald villain, hot tub scene) probably doesn’t speak too highly of it either. You get the same silliness as before, with a fully furnished M office in a submarine, trap doors to secret offices, and a Japanese woman named Kissy, as well as the dumb luck and dumber characters that work to keep Bond alive. Add a handful of misogyny and a dash of blatant racism to the mix and you’ve got a big steaming pile of weak Bond movie.
Bond Rating: SP out of SPECTRE