You Only Live Twice is Sean Connery’s most expansive and entertaining James Bond adventure. It also has an interesting subtle tweaking of the Bond formula that makes it an eminently exciting film. One of these aspects is evident in the opening pre-title sequence as the film depicts the sudden on-screen death of the famous spy.
With this in place, the film takes on an exciting new dimension as Bond feels further entrenched in his undercover work as the rest of the known world thinks he is dead. The film also utilises its primary foreign location in an extremely effective way other than just being mere travelogue fare. We learn about Japan’s customs, its lifestyle and its secret service.
This last aspect gives the film a fun and smirking interplay between Japan’s top agent, Tiger Tanaka and James Bond as they compare gadgets and methodology. In fact, one can almost feel that Tanaka’s comments on Bond’s conduct are an amusing commentary on the Bond formula as well as the character.
Lewis Gilbert’s direction is also commendable. Whether it is the fascinating rooftop fight, that looks like it was shot using a camera from a helicopter or the way he captures the majesty of Blofield’s volcano lair. Gilbert truly delivers one of the best spectacle-driven Bond films with a brisk pace and a commendable sense of ease.
However, the most problematic aspect of the picture is Connery’s performance. It is inconsistent at best. There are moments where he provides some of his best moments as the famous agent. One of these is an aftermath of a fight that resulted in the death of his attacker. Bond looks shaken by the experience as he pours himself a drink before commenting on its taste with a joke. Connery convincingly portraits this rare moment of vulnerability and the one-liner to follow.
However, at other times, Connery either looks fed up or bored and his line deliveries thud with a lack of passion or enthusiasm. This is a true shame as the film surrounding Connery is brimming with the adventurous spirit that has always been indicative of the best Bond pictures.