After both US and Soviet space rockets are mysteriously hijacked, each blames each other, leaving the world is on the brink of a World War III. It takes James Bond to discover the culprit is his great foe Ernst Stavro Blofeld, who has a secret rocket-launching base hidden in a Japanese volcano.
“The firing power inside my crater is enough to annihilate a small army”: if Goldfinger is held up as Bond perfected both in style and substance, You Only Live Twice, scripted with flushes of wild whimsy and spicy cross-cultural teases by Roald Dahl, is the ne plus ultra of the series. The one that fully embodies all the flamboyance of cinema’s greatest character, and all the scope and brio of his adventures. Sean Connery may have been eying retirement, but he and Bond were by now moulded together, his sleek machismo indelibly imprinted on 007 forever.
Director Lewis Gilbert effortlessly marshals the intricacies of the plot (a nutty plan by SMERSH to ignite a world war), the exotic Japanese locations, and the extravagancies of having hundreds of ninja warriors abseiling into a huge enemy base unfathomably constructed in the belly of an extinct volcano (quite the engineering feat!). Special mention, therefore, should go to designer Ken Adams whose rock-hewn uber-lair, a potty cavernous playground of steel and concrete, has become the industry standard for villainous lairs everywhere.
Even so, the film never runs away with itself, to become some superhero projection. There is salty character work, as ever, between Bond and his superiors; a tender romance with Mie Hama’s delightfully named Kissy Suzuki; and an excellent balance between global policing and top notch action (giro-copter Little Nelly defeating swarms of enemy choppers; a giant magnet, hung off of a helicopter is used to pluck an enemy car clean off the road) keep the plot motoring along to the best final act of any Bond movie.
That’s before you even consider that pool of ravenous piranha, Donald Pleasance’s proto-Dr. Evil performance as pussy stroking Blofeld, and Bond felling an enemy cohort by firing a dart out of a cigarette. It may not be art, but it is genius.
Set in Japan, YOLT drips with splendour and features Donald Pleasance's much-parodied Blofeld AND the most extraordinary Bond set of them all: his volcano.