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You Only Live Twice (1967) is the fifth spy film in the James Bond series, and the fifth to star Sean Connery as the fictional MI6marker agent James Bond. The film's screenplay was written by Roald Dahl, and based on Ian Fleming's 1964 novel of the same name. It is the first James Bond film to discard most of Fleming's plot, using only a few characters and locations from the book as the background for an entirely new story.

In the film, Bond is dispatched to Japan after American and Russian spacecraft disappear mysteriously in orbit. With each nation blaming the other amidst the Cold War, Bond travels secretly to a remote Japanese island in order to find the perpetrators and comes face to face with Ernst Stavro Blofeld, the head of SPECTRE. The film reveals the appearance of Blofeld who was previously a partially unseen character. SPECTRE is working on behalf of a third-party, a foreign government represented by Asian officials. Although their country is not named it is possible that they come from the People's Republic of Chinamarker whose relationship with both the United Statesmarker and the Soviet Unionmarker was at a low point (see Sino-Soviet split).

During the Japanese location filming Sean Connery announced that he was resigning from the role of Bond; however, Connery did later return in Diamonds Are Forever and the non EON Bond film "Never Say Never Again". You Only Live Twice is the first Bond film to be directed by Lewis Gilbert, who later directed 1977's The Spy Who Loved Me and 1979's Moonraker, both starring Roger Moore. These three Bond films are notable for being epic in scale.

The first Bond film to be released in the summertime, the film was a great success, with positive reviews and over $111M in worldwide box office, and has been parodied most prominently by the Austin Powers series and its scar-faced, Nehru suit-wearing Dr. Evil. The backing soundtrack to the film, originally performed by Nancy Sinatra, was used by British singer Robbie Williams in his hit "Millennium".


An American spacecraft is hijacked from orbit by a carnivorous space craft; a similar fate befalls a Soviet spacecraft later on. With each country thinking that the other is the cause of its loss, the world is thrown to the brink of World War III. The United Kingdom's government, however, believes the spacecraft landed in the Sea of Japanmarker, thus suspecting Japanese involvement.

The pre-title sequence depicted 007 (Sean Connery) faking his murder in Hong Kongmarker, allowing Bond more freedom to operate. He is sent to Japan to investigate the British suspicion, in conjunction with the Japanese secret service leader "Tiger" Tanaka (Tetsurō Tamba).
Tanaka, Aki and Bond plot their attack on Blofeld by examining Tanaka's gadgets and weapons.

At a Tokyo sumo wrestling match Bond contacts Tanaka's assistant Aki (Akiko Wakabayashi), who takes him to meet with a local MI6 operative, Dikko Henderson (Charles Gray). Henderson claims to have critical evidence for the rogue craft originating in Japan, but is murdered before he can reveal it. Bond kills the assailant and steals his identity. He is brought to their headquarters, which turns out to be Osato Chemicals. Once there, Bond breaks into an office safe of the Japanese corporate head, Mr. Osato (Teru Shimada), and steals some documents after triggering the alarm.

As Bond flees, Aki picks him up in her car. However, Bond becomes suspicious when she avoids his questions and flees to a secluded subway station. When Bond chases her, he falls through a trapdoor and slides into Tanaka's office. After identifying each other, they examine Bond's documents. The main item of interest is a tourist photograph of a cargo ship called the Ning-Po and a microdot on it containing a message that operatives "liquidated" the tourist who took the photo as a security measure.

The following morning, 007 goes to Osato Chemicals under the guise of Mr. Fisher, head of Empire Chemicals, to have a proper meeting with Mr. Osato himself. Once the industrialist arrives by helicopter with his secretary, Helga Brandt (Karin Dor), he introduces himself to Bond and they discuss Bond's affairs with Empire Chemicals. As Bond leaves, Osato orders Helga Brandt to "Kill him[Bond]." Outside the building, a carload of assassins pursue 007 after being rescued just in the nick of time by Aki in her Toyota 2000GT. The couple are chased to a highway as a Japanese SIS helicopter literally picks up the assassins' car with a huge magnet, and drops them into Tokyo Bay. Bond and Aki continue driving to Kobe and the city's docks, where Ning-Po is docked. After being discovered by many more SPECTRE henchmen, they give chase but Bond eludes them until Aki gets away and Bond himself captured by one thug. He awakens tied up in Helga Brandt's cabin onboard Ning-Po. She briefly interrogates Bond, who manages to bribe his way out of imprisonment. The next day, Brandt flies Bond to Tokyo, but she drops a flare into the plane and bails out. As the plane dives to annihilation, Bond manages to land, just before the plane explodes. He then returns to Tanaka and his crew with information. Interested in what was worth killing for in that photo, Bond investigates the company's dock facilities and discovers that the ship was delivering liquid oxygen, an oxidizer for rocket fuel; the document used the term LOX, which Bond states is an American name for smoked salmon, providing a convenient cover. Together, Bond and Tanaka learn that the true mastermind behind this is Osato's boss Ernst Stavro Blofeld and his organization SPECTRE, who had recently killed Helga Brandt for her failure to eliminate Bond.

After the spies learn from surveillance photos that the Ning-Po unloaded its cargo overnight at the island, Bond investigates the area in the air with a heavily armed autogyro called Little Nellie. While in midflight and having no luck finding the SPECTRE base, Bond is attacked by four armed helicopters, but he destroys them all. Preparing to conduct a closer investigation of the island, Bond trains with Tanaka and his elite ninja force. Tanaka suggests that the best disguise for Bond is as a Japanese fisherman. Pretending to live with Aki as husband and wife, Bond narrowly escapes being poisoned by an assassin, who kills Aki instead after she and Bond shared a passionate night together. Bond receives training in Japanese culture and stages marriage to Tanaka's student, Kissy Suzuki (Mie Hama).

To make matters worse, Bond and Tanaka learn that the United States has moved up their next space mission, which means it will likely be hijacked by SPECTRE and a world war will likely be triggered before they can stop the plot. However, they gain a major clue when Kissy mentions that a local woman had just mysteriously died after rowing her boat into a cave in the area where Bond's aerial battle took place.

Bond and Kissy set out on a reconnaissance mission into that cave and discover that SPECTRE has a secret rocket base hidden in a hollow volcano. Bond slips in through the crater door, while Kissy returns to alert Tanaka. Bond locates and frees the captured Soviet and American astronauts, and with their help, he steals a spacesuit in attempt to infiltrate the SPECTRE craft (code named "Bird One"). Before he can enter the craft Blofeld personally notices Bond mishandle the air conditioning unit of his suit and is caught. Kissy has her own difficulties when she is sighted and attacked by SPECTRE guards in a helicopter, but she uses her considerable experience as a pearl diver to hide underwater long enough to trick her pursuers into thinking that she drowned. Bond is taken to Blofeld (Donald Pleasence) for interrogation, while Bird One is launched with the backup astronaut aboard.

Soon after, Kissy leads Tanaka's troops to the crater entrance, but are detected and attacked by the crater's sentry guns on Blofeld's order. Meanwhile, Bird One closes in on the American space capsule and US forces prepare to launch a nuclear attack on the USSR. In response, Bond asks for a cigarette, which conceals a small rocket. Killing the guard next to the crater hatch controls, Bond manages to open the door and allow in Tanaka's troops to storm the base. In the course of the fighting, the control room is evacuated, and Osato is shot by Blofeld for his failed attempts to kill 007. Bond, after escaping Blofeld, rejoins Tanaka and Kissy, proceeds to the control room, where there is a self destruct switch for the spacecraft. After fighting Blofeld's bodyguard, Hans (Ronald Rich), Bond manages to get the destruct key from him and detonates Bird One, seconds before it reaches the American craft.

The Americans stand down after learning their spacecraft is safe. Blofeld escapes along a secret passage, but before leaving he activates the base's self-destruct system, killing several dozen more of Tanaka's men. Bond, Kissy, Tanaka, and the surviving ninjas escape through the tunnel which Bond and Kissy had previously investigated. Safe from the now erupting volcano, the survivors board air-dropped lifeboats, and Bond (along with Kissy) is personally picked up by M's personal submarine.



You Only Live Twice brought a new director, screenwriter and initially a new editor to the series. It was also the first Bond film to completely depart from the novel it was based on.

On Her Majesty's Secret Service was the intended next film, but the producers decided to adapt You Only Live Twice instead because OHMSS would require searching for high and snowy locations. Lewis Gilbert originally declined the offer to direct, but accepted after producer Albert R. Broccoli called him saying: "You can't give up this job. It's the largest audience in the world." Peter Hunt believed that Gilbert had been contracted by the producers for other work but they found they had to use him.The Spy Who Loved Me's end credits also listed For Your Eyes Only as the next film, but the producers decided to adapt Moonraker instead because of the success of Star Wars.

Gilbert, producers Broccoli and Harry Saltzman, production designer Ken Adam and director of photography Freddie Young then went to Japan, spending three weeks searching for locations. SPECTRE’s shore fortress headquarters was changed to an extinct volcano after the team learned that the Japanese don't build castles by the sea. The group was due to return to the UK on a BOAC Boeing 707 flight (BOAC Flight 911) on 5 March 1966, but canceled after being told they had a chance to watch a ninja demonstration. That flight crashed 25 minutes after takeoff, killing all on board.

Roald Dahl, close friend of Ian Fleming, was chosen to write the adaptation despite having no prior experience writing a screenplay except for the uncompleted The Bells Of Hell Go Ting-a-ling-a-ling. Originally the producers had Harold Jack Bloom who came to Japan with the producers write a screenplay that was rejected, but several of Bloom's ideas were used by Dahl. Bloom was given the credit of "Additional Story Material". Kingsley Amis said that he had been asked to provide a screenplay for a Bond film by the producers but it was rejected in December 1965.

Lewis Gilbert's regular editor, Thelma Connell, was originally hired to edit the film. However, after her initial, almost three-hour cut received a terrible response from test audiences, Peter R. Hunt was asked to re-edit the film. Hunt's cut proved a much greater success, and he was awarded the director's chair on the next film as a result. Hunt also directed many of the second unit scenes.

Unlike most James Bond films featuring various locales around the world, almost the entire film is set in one country and several minutes are given over to an elaborate Japanese wedding. This is in keeping with Fleming's original novel, which also devoted a number of pages to the discussion of Japanese culture.


Jan Werich's screentest as Blofeld.
When the time came to begin You Only Live Twice, the producers were faced with the problem of a disenchanted star. Sean Connery had stated that he was tired of playing James Bond and all of the associated commitment (time spent filming and publicising each movie), together with finding it difficult to do other work, which would potentially lead to typecasting. Saltzman and Broccoli were able to persuade Connery by increasing his fee for the film, but geared up to look for a replacement.

Jan Werich was originally cast by producer Harry Saltzman to play Blofeld. Upon his arrival at the Pinewood set, both producer Albert R. Broccoli and director Lewis Gilbert felt that he was a poor choice, resembling a "poor, benevolent Santa Claus". Nonetheless, in an attempt to make the casting work, Gilbert continued filming. After several days, both Gilbert and Broccoli determined that Werich wasn't menacing enough, and recast Blofeld with Donald Pleasence in the role. Pleasence's ideas for Blofeld's appearance included a hump, a limp, a beard, and a lame hand, before he settled on the scar. He found it uncomfortable, though, because of the glue that attached it to his eye.

Many European models were tested for Helga Brandt, with German actress Karin Dor being cast. Dor performed the stunt of diving into a pool to depict Helga's demise herself, without the use of a double. Strangely, for the German version Dor was dubbed by somebody else.

Gilbert had chosen Tetsurō Tamba after working with him in The 7th Dawn. A number of actual martial arts experts were hired as the ninjas, with Masaaki Hatsumi serving as the technical advisor on ninjutsu. But the Japanese women were hard to cast, because most didn't know any English. Akiko Wakabayashi and Mie Hama were chosen because of their beauty and started taking English classes in the UK. Hama's problems with the language made her switch roles with Wakabayashi, who had no problems learning English. Wakabayashi only requested that her character name, "Suki", be changed to "Aki".


Filming of You Only Live Twice extended from July 1966 to March 1967. The film was shot primarily in Japan. Himeji Castlemarker in Hyōgomarker was depicted as Tanaka's ninja training camp. His private transportation hub was filmed at the Tokyo Metro's Nakano-shimbashi Stationmarker. The Hotel New Otanimarker, Tokyo served as the outside for Osato Chemicals and the hotel's gardens were used for scenes of the ninja training. Bōnotsumarker in Kagoshima served as the fishing village, the Kobe harbor was used for the dock fight and Mount Shinmoe-dake in Kyūshūmarker was used for the exteriors of SPECTRE's headquarters. Large crowds were present in Japan to see the shooting. A Japanese fan began following Sean Connery with a camera, and the police were called several times to prevent invasions during shooting.

The heavily armed autogyro "Little Nellie" was included after Ken Adam heard a radio interview with its inventor, RAF Wing Commander Ken Wallis. Wallis piloted his invention, which was equipped with various mock-up armaments by John Stears' special effects team, during production. "Nellie's" battle with helicopters proved to be difficult to film. The scenes were initially shot in Miyazakimarker, first with takes of the gyrocopter, with more than 85 take-offs, 5 hours of flight and Wallis nearly crashing onto the camera several times. A scene filming the helicopters from above created a major updraft and cameraman John Jordan had his foot severed by the craft's rotor. Filming was interrupted. The concluding shots involved explosions, which the Japanese government did not allow in a national park. So, the crew moved to Torremolinosmarker, Spain, which was found to resemble the Japanese landscape.

The sets of SPECTRE's volcano base were constructed at a lot inside Pinewood Studiosmarker, with a cost of $1 million and including operative heliport and monorail. The 45 meter (120′) tall set could be seen from 5 kilometers away, and attracted many people from the region. Other locations outside Japan included the ship HMS Tenby in Gibraltarmarker for the sea burial, Hong Kongmarker for the scene where Bond fakes his death, and Norwaymarker for the Russian radar station.

Sean Connery's then wife Diane Cilento had to do the swimming scenes for at least five Japanese actresses, including Mie Hama.


The soundtrack was the fourth of the series to be composed by John Barry. He tried to incorporate the "elegance of the Oriental sound" with Japanese music-inspired tracks. The theme song, "You Only Live Twice", was composed by Barry and lyricist Leslie Bricusse and sung by Nancy Sinatra. Sinatra was reported to be very nervous while recording — first she wanted to leave the studio; then she claimed to sometimes "sound like Minnie Mouse". Barry declared that the final song uses 25 different takes. There are two versions of the song "You Only Live Twice", sung by Nancy Sinatra, one directly from the movie soundtrack, and a second one for record release arranged by Billy Strange, and now available on CD. The movie soundtrack song is widely recognised for its striking opening bars, French horns, and oriental flavor, and was far more popular on radio. The record release made #44 on the Billboard charts in the USA, #11 in UK.

In 1998, Robbie Williams sampled the title song "You Only Live Twice" for the chart-topper "Millennium". A rock version of "You Only Live Twice" was covered by Coldplay when they toured in 2001, and was covered by Natacha Atlas for her 2005 compilation album The Best of Natacha Atlas. Icelandic singer Björk also recorded a cover version, as has Shirley Bassey, who has three original Bond themes to her credit.

A different title song was originally recorded by Julie Rogers, but eventually discarded. Only two lines from that version were kept in the final lyrics, and the orchestral part was changed to fit Nancy Sinatra's vocal range. Rogers' version only appeared in a James Bond 30th Anniversary CD, with no singer credit. In the 1990s, an alternative example of a possible theme song (also called "You Only Live Twice" and sung by Lorraine Chandler) was discovered in the vaults of RCA Records. Probably intended as a demo for consideration by the film's producers, it became a very popular track with followers of the Northern soul scene (Chandler was well known for her high-quality soul output on RCA) and can be found on several RCA soul compilations.

Release and reception

You Only Live Twice premiered at the Odeon Leicester Squaremarker in London. It was the first premiere of a James Bond film that Queen Elizabeth II had attended. The film grossed $43 million in the United States and over $111 million worldwide.

Critical response today is mostly positive, with Rotten Tomatoes giving a 69% "fresh" rating. But most reviews pointed out various flaws in the film. James Berardinelli said that the first half was good, but "during the second half, as the plot escalates beyond the bounds of preposterousness, that the film starts to fragment", criticizing "too extravagant rockets which swallow up spacecraft" and Blofeld's appearance. Roger Ebert criticized the focus on gadgets, declaring that the James Bond formula "fails to work its magic". Christopher Null considered the film one of James Bond's most memorable adventures, but the plot "protracting and quite confusing". Ali Barclay of BBC Films panned Dahl's script displaying "a whole new world of villainy and technology." Leo Goldsmith lauded the volcano base as "the most impressive of Ken Adam's sets for the franchise." Danny Peary wrote that You Only Live Twice "should have been about twenty minutes shorter” and described it as “not a bad Bond film, but it doesn’t compare to its predecessors – the formula had become a little stale.”

IGN ranked You Only Live Twice as the fourth best Bond movie, and Entertainment Weekly as the second best, considering that it "pushes the series to the outer edge of coolness". But Norman Wilner of MSN chose it as the fifth worst, criticizing the plot, action scenes and little screentime for Blofeld.

Literary allusions

Literary critic Paul Simpson called the film one of the most colourful of the series and credited the prefecture of Kagoshima for adding "a good flavour" of Japanese influence on the film. However he panned the depiction of Blofeld as a "let-down", "small, bald and a whooping scar." Scientist Barry Parker described the "Little Nellie" as a model WA-116 autogyro needing a runway only 72 feet long. Simon Winder said that the film is "perfect" for parodies of the series.


  3. p. 537 Leader, Zachary The Life of Kingsley Amis 2006 Jonathan Cape
  4. In Praise of George Lazenby - Alternative 007
  5. Deutsche Synchronkartei
  6. IMDb Entry For Masaaki Hatsumi
  8. Danny Peary, Guide for the Film Fanatic (Simon & Schuster, 1986) p.482
  9. Simpson 71

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