Only Live Twice was the fifth film in the Bond series and was the first
Bond film to move drastically away from Fleming's original storyline, retaining
only the main characters and locations of the novel itself. Although reaching
the screen first, it was actually originally written as a sequel to O.H.M.S.S.
Lewis Gilbert directed for the first time, and was to follow this with the
Roger Moore Bond films 'The Spy Who Loved Me' and 'Moonraker'. It was during
the making of this film that Connery announced his retirement from the role
although he continued in 'Diamonds Are Forever' before hanging up his Walther
Unlike the globetrotting in previous films, YOLT was set almost entirely in Japan. Lewis Gilbert, Cubby Broccoli, Harry Saltzman, photographer Freddie Young and production designer Ken Adam spent three weeks in the country searching for a location for the SPECTRE headquarters and an extinct volcano was eventually decided upon when they discovered that no castles in Japan are built by the sea. The team were planning to return to Britain on 5th March 1966 on BOAC flight 911 but cancelled their seats after being offered the chance to see a demonstration of Ninja arts. The flight crashed 30 minutes after take-off with no survivors.
Following the mysterious disappearance of manned US and Soviet orbital spacecraft, James Bond is sent to Japan to uncover the truth in order to avoid nuclear war between the superpowers who are busy blaming each other. On arrival in Japan, Bond is met by Aki (played by Akiko Wakabayashi) who is an operative in the local secret service headed by Tiger Tanaka. They meet with the local MI6 agent who is killed before he can pass on vital information. Bond kills the assassin and traces him back to Osato Chemicals, where he acquires documents linking the company's shipping activities to the criminal activity and photographs identifying a cargo ship, the Ning-Po. Bond and Aki infiltrate the ship to get further evidence but they are discovered by SPECTRE staff and Bond is captured, but not before he has distracted their pursuers for long enough to allow Aki to escape.
After interrogation, Bond is placed on a plane to Tokyo, which is sabotaged in mid-air with the crew bailing out leaving Bond to escape after managing to crash-land the stricken plane. Bond returns to the docks and finds evidence that the ship was delivering chemicals to make rocket fuel. With Tanaka, they work out where the ship was headed and the involvement of Blofeld in the scheme. Using an impressively-armed autogyro named 'Little Nellie' from 'Q' department Bond overflies the island where he destroys a couple of helicopters who attack him. Having seen nothing significant he needs to get a closer look at the island.
Bond prepares for his reconnaissance by training with Tanaka's ninja agents, but he has been traced by Osato who has been ordered by Blofeld to eliminate him. He manages to survive but Aki is killed during the assassination attempt. Following information received about a mysterious cave on the island from one of Tanaka's students, Kissy Suzuki (played by Mie Hama), Bond is disguised as a Japanese fisherman and goes through a staged marriage to reinforce his false identity. Together, they reconnoitre the island, discovering that the cave leads into an extinct volcanic crater with a false 'lake' in it which is hiding the secret SPECTRE launch installation. It is from here that sinister space vehicles are being launched that are capable of encapsulating and 'hijacking' other orbital craft - a massively futuristic concept for the series genre.
While Kissy returns to report the findings to Tanaka, Bond infiltrates the facility, frees the captured astronauts and finally comes face to face with the sinister SPECTRE mastermind Ernst Stavro Blofeld, superbly portrayed by Donald Pleasence. Blofeld, a shadowy character whose existence had been mentioned in previous films but had never been fully seen, is working with an (unnamed) Asian power to provoke war between Russia and the USA. Tanaka mounts a spectacular raid against the installation with his army of trained ninjas, destroying the SPECTRE installation before the next spacecraft can be launched. However, although the mission is successful, Blofeld manages to escape amidst all the confusion and massive destruction.
Toho Studios provided the sound stages, personnel and the female Japanese stars for the film. The two Japanese female parts presented a problem as most of the actresses considered had very limited English. Mie Hama and Akiko Wakabayashi were eventually chosen but in the alternative roles, which were switched so Hama, who had more difficulty with the language, was re-cast as 'Kissy' which had less dialogue. Harold Jack Bloom had originally been invited to write the screenplay and, although his overall script was rejected, some of his ideas such as Bond's fake death and the ninja attack were used, leading him to be credited with 'additional story material'. Roald Dahl did the main screenplay, but complained that the story was "Ian Fleming's worst book, with no plot in it which would even make a movie" and was more or less allowed to write his own story, ending up with a plot similar to that in Dr. No.
Most of the filming was carried out in Japan but the set for thevolcano base was constructed in Pinewood Studios at a cost of $1 million and, at 148ft high, could be seen three miles away. HMS Tenby in Gibraltar was used for the sea burial, a location in Norway for the Soviet radar station and Bond's fake death scene was filmed in Hong Kong. The haunting theme song, "You Only Live Twice", was composed by John Barry with lyrics by Leslie Bricusse and performed by Nancy Sinatra who allegedly needed 25 takes to complete it. There are actually two versions of the song - one comes directly from the film soundtrack and a second one, arranged by Billy Strange, was used for the record release. The movie premiered at the Odeon, Leicester Square, London and was the first Bond premiere attended by H.M. Queen Elizabeth II.
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also see Bill Harry's Sixties pages on Sean Connery as 007
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