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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 MI6 agent James Bond. The film's screenplay was written by Roald Dahl, and loosely 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 Soviet manned 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 extorting the government of an unnamed Asian power, implied to be the People's Republic of China, in order to provoke war between the superpowers.[1][2]

During the filming in Japan, it was announced that Sean Connery would retire from the role of Bond. But after a hiatus, he returned in 1971's Diamonds Are Forever and later 1983's non-Eon Bond film Never Say Never AgainYou Only Live Twice is the first Bond film to be directed by Lewis Gilbert, who later directed the 1977 film The Spy Who Loved Me and the 1979 film Moonraker, both starring Roger Moore.

You Only Live Twice was a great success, receiving positive reviews and grossing over $111 million in worldwide box office. You Only Live Twice has subsequently been parodied, most prominently by the Austin Powers series and its scar-faced, Nehru suit-wearing Dr. Evil.


An American spacecraft is hijacked from orbit by another, unidentified spacecraft. The U.S. suspect it to be the Soviets, but the British suspect Japanese involvement since the spacecraft landed in the Sea of Japan. To investigate, MI6 operative James Bond—agent 007—is sent to Tokyo after faking his own death in Hong Kong and being buried at sea from HMS Tenby (F65).

Upon his arrival, Bond is contacted by Aki, assistant to the Japanese secret service leader Tiger Tanaka. Aki introduces Bond to local MI6 operative Dikko Henderson. Henderson claims to have critical evidence about the rogue craft but is killed before he can elaborate. Bond chases and kills the assailant, disguises himself and escapes in the getaway car, which takes him to Osato Chemicals. Once there, Bond subdues the driver and breaks into the office safe of president Mr. Osato. After stealing documents, Bond is chased out by armed security, eventually being picked up by Aki, who flees to a secluded subway station. Bond chases her, but falls down a trap door leading to Tanaka's office. The stolen documents are examined and found to include a photograph of the cargo ship Ning-Po with a microdot message saying the tourist who took the photo was killed as a security precaution.

Bond goes to Osato Chemicals to meet Mr. Osato himself, masquerading as a potential new buyer. Osato humours Bond but, after their meeting, orders his secretary, Helga Brandt, to have him killed. Outside the building, assassins open fire on Bond before Aki rescues him. The assassins are disposed of via a helicopter with a magnetic grab. Bond and Aki continue driving to Kobe, where theNing-Po is docked. Bond and Aki investigate the company's dock facilities and discover that the ship was delivering elements forrocket fuel. After being discovered by more henchmen, they give chase but Bond eludes them until Aki gets away; however, Bond is captured and knocked out. He wakes, tied up in SPECTRE operative Helga Brandt's cabin on the Ning-Po. She interrogates Bond, but he thinks he manages to bribe his way out of imprisonment. Brandt then flies Bond to Tokyo, but, en route, she sets off a flare in the plane and bails out, intending to kill him in the plane crash. Bond manages to land the crashing plane and escapes.

After finding out where the Ning-Po unloaded, Bond investigates the area by a heavily armed autogyro, Little Nellie, delivered to him by Q. Near a volcano, Bond is attacked by helicopters, which he defeats, confirming his suspicions that the enemy's base is nearby. A Soviet spacecraft is then captured by the unidentified craft, heightening tensions between Russia and the US. After capturing the Soviet spacecraft the ship lands in an elaborate base on the inside of a volcano. It is revealed that the true mastermind behind this is Ernst Stavro Blofeld and SPECTRE. Blofeld seems to forgive Brandt for her failure to kill Bond, but as she leaves, he activates a collapsing section of walkway under her, dropping her into a pool of piranha. Blofeld demands that Mr. Osato kill Bond.

Bond prepares to conduct a closer investigation of the island by training with Tanaka's ninjas, during which an attempted assassination on Bond kills Aki. Bond is disguised and stages a marriage to Tanaka's student, Kissy Suzuki. Acting on a lead from Suzuki, the pair sets out on reconnaissance to the cave, investigating the cave and the volcano above it. Establishing that the mouth of the volcano is a disguised hatch to a secret rocket base, Bond slips in through the crater door, while Kissy returns to alert Tanaka. Bond locates and frees the captured astronauts and, with their help, steals a spacesuit in attempt to infiltrate the SPECTRE spacecraft "Bird One". Before he can enter the craft, Blofeld notices Bond, and he is detained while Bird One is launched.

Bird One closes in on the American space capsule and US forces prepare to launch a nuclear attack on the USSR. Meanwhile, the Japanese Secret Service ninjas climb the mountain and attempt to enter through the upper hatch, but are spotted by the base's security and fired upon. Bond tricks Blofeld and manages to create a diversion that allows him to open the hatch, letting in the ninjas. During the battle, the control room is evacuated and Osato is killed by Blofeld. Bond escapes and fights his way to the control room via Blofeld's office, where he defeats Blofeld's bodyguard, Hans, dropping him into the pool of piranha. Bond activates the spacecraft's self-destruct before it reaches the American craft and the Americans stand down their weapons.

Blofeld activates the base's self-destruct system and escapes. Bond, Kissy, Tanaka, and the surviving ninjas escape through the cave tunnel before it explodes, and are rescued by submarine.


The sets of Blofeld's hideout at Pinewood Studios. From left, Lois MaxwellAkiko WakabayashiSean ConneryKarin Dor and Mie Hama examine the set during a break in filming.*Sean Connery as James Bond: An MI6 agent.


Aki's Toyota 2000GT Open-Top was ranked as the seventh best car in the James Bond series by Complexin 2011.[4]

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.[5Lewis 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 R. Hunt, who edited the first five Bond films, believed that Gilbert had been contracted by the producers for other work but they found they had to use him.[6]

Gilbert, producers Broccoli and Harry Saltzman, production designer Ken Adamand 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 do not 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 cancelled after being told they had a chance to watch a ninja demonstration.[5] That flight crashed 25 minutes after takeoff, killing all on board.[7] In Tokyo, the crew also found Hunt, who decided to go on holiday after having his request to direct declined. Hunt was invited to direct the second unit for You Only Live Twice and accepted the job.[8]

Unlike most James Bond films featuring various locations around the world, almost the entire film is set in one country and several minutes are devoted 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. Toho Studios provided soundstages, personnel, and the female Japanese stars to the producers.[9]


The producers had Harold Jack Bloom come to Japan with them to write a screenplay. Bloom's work was ultimately rejected, but since several of his ideas were used in the final script, Bloom was given the credit of "Additional Story Material".[10] Among the elements were the opening with Bond's fake death and burial at sea, and the ninja attack.[11] As the screenwriter of the previous Bondfilms Richard Maibaum was unavailable, 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.[5]

Dahl said the original novel was "Ian Fleming’s worst book, with no plot in it which would even make a movie",[11] and compared it to a travelogue,[12] and said he had to create a new plot "[though] I could retain only four or five of the original story's ideas."[13] On creating the plot, Dahl said he "didn't know what the hell Bond was going to do" despite having to deliver the first draft in six weeks, and decided to do a basic plot similar to Dr. No.[11] Dahl was given a free rein on his script, except for the character of Bond and "the girl formula", involving three women for Bond to seduce: an ally and a henchwoman who both get killed, and the main Bond girl. While the third involved a character from the book, Kissy Suzuki, Dahl had to create Aki and Helga Brandt to fulfil the rest.[14]

Gilbert was mostly collaborative with Dahl's work, as the writer declared: "He not only helped in script conferences, but had some good ideas and then left you alone, and when you produced the finished thing, he shot it. Other directors have such an ego that they want to rewrite it and put their own dialogue in, and it's usually disastrous. What I admired so much about Lewis Gilbert was that he just took the screenplay and shot it. That's the way to direct: You either trust your writer or you don't."[11]


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.[10][15] 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 directorLewis 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 was not menacing enough, and recast Blofeld with Donald Pleasence in the role.[5] Pleasence's ideas for Blofeld's appearance included ahump, a limp, a beard, and a lame hand, before he settled on the scar.[16] He found it uncomfortable, though, because of the glue that attached it to his eye.[17]

Many European models were tested for Helga Brandt as well as German actress Eva Renzi who passed on the film,[18] 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.[19] Strangely, for the German version Dor was dubbed by somebody else.[20]

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. The two Japanese female parts proved difficult to cast, due to most of the actresses tested having limited English. Akiko Wakabayashi and Mie Hama were eventually chosen and started taking English classes in the UK. Hama, initially cast in the role of Tanaka's assistant, had difficulty with the language, so the producers switched her role with Wakabayashi, who had been cast as Kissy, a part with significantly less dialogue. Wakabayashi only requested that her character name, "Suki", be changed to "Aki".[5]


The Little Nellie WA-116 autogyro with its creator and pilot, Ken Wallis.The scene of the Japanese fishing village.

Filming of You Only Live Twice lasted from July 1966 to March 1967.[21] The film was shot primarily in Japan. Himeji Castle in Hyōgo was depicted as Tanaka's ninja training camp. His private transportation hub was filmed at the Tokyo Metro'sNakano-shimbashi Station. As of 2011, many of the fixtures in the station are unchanged from the time of filming.[22]

The Hotel New Otani Tokyo served as the outside for Osato Chemicals and the hotel's gardens were used for scenes of the ninja training. Bōnotsu in Kagoshima served as the fishing village, the Kobe harbour was used for the dock fight and Mount Shinmoe-dake in Kyūshū was used for the exteriors of SPECTRE's headquarters.[5][23][24] 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.[5][17]

The heavily armed WA-116 autogyro "Little Nellie" was included after Ken Adam heard a radio interview with its inventor, RAF Wing Commander Ken Wallis. Little Nellie was named after music hall star Nellie Wallace, who has a similar surname to its inventor. Wallis piloted his invention, which was equipped with various mock-up armaments by John Stears' special effects team, during production.[21]

"Nellie's" battle with helicopters proved to be difficult to film. The scenes were initially shot in Miyazaki, first with takes of the gyrocopter, with more than 85 take-offs, 5 hours of flight and Wallis nearly crashing into the camera several times. A scene filming the helicopters from above created a major downdraft and cameraman John Jordan's foot was severed by the craft's rotor. The concluding shots involved explosions, which the Japanese government did not allow in a national park. So, the crew moved to Torremolinos, Spain, which was found to resemble the Japanese landscape.[5]

The sets of SPECTRE's volcano base were constructed at a lot inside Pinewood Studios, with a cost of $1 million and including operative heliport and monorail.[5][23] The 45 m (148 ft) tall set could be seen from 5 kilometres (3 miles) away, and attracted many people from the region.[25] Other locations outside Japan included the ship HMS Tenby in Gibraltar for the sea burial,[26] Hong Kong for the scene where Bond fakes his death, and Norway for the Soviet radar station.[5][24][25]

Sean Connery's then wife Diane Cilento did the swimming scenes for at least five Japanese actresses, including Mie Hama.[5] Martial arts expert Donn F. Draeger provided martial arts training, and also doubled for Connery.[27] 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.[10]


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.[28] 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".[29] Barry declared that the final song uses 25 different takes.[28]

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. The movie soundtrack song is widely recognised for its striking opening bars and oriental flavour, and was far more popular on radio. The record release made No. 44 on the Billboard charts in the USA, No. 11 in UK. Both versions of the title song are available on CD.

In 1992, Acen sampled the title song "You Only Live Twice" for his song "Trip II the Moon Part 2". In 1997, Icelandic singer Björkrecorded a cover version. In 1998, Robbie Williams used the distinctive string figure for his song "Millennium", (although it was re-recorded, rather than sampled from the movie for cost reasons).[30Coldplay covered it when they toured in 2001, and it was covered by Natacha Atlas for her 2005 compilation album The Best of Natacha AtlasShirley Bassey, who has three original Bond themes to her credit, has also covered the song.

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.[31][32][33] 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. 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.[34]


To promote the film, Eon Productions produced a one-hour colour television programme entitled Welcome to Japan, Mr. Bond first aired on 2 June 1967 in the United States on NBC.[35] Bond regulars Lois Maxwell and Desmond Llewelyn appeared playing respectively "Miss Moneypenny" and "Q". Kate O'Mara appears as Miss Moneypenny's assistant.[36] The programme shows clips fromYou Only Live Twice and the then four extant Bond films. and contained a storyline of Moneypenny trying to establish the identity of Bond's bride.[37]

Release and reception[]

You Only Live Twice premiered at the Odeon Leicester Square in London. It was the first premiere of a James Bond film that Queen Elizabeth II had attended.[38] The film grossed $43 million in the United States and over $111 million worldwide.[39]

Critical response today is mostly positive, with Rotten Tomatoes giving a 73% rating.[40] 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", criticising Blofeld's appearance and stating "rockets that swallow up spacecraft are a bit too extravagant."[41]

Roger Ebert criticised the focus on gadgets, declaring that the James Bond formula "fails to work its magic".[42John Brosnan in his book James Bond in the Cinema compared the film to an episode of Thunderbirds with a reliance on gadgetry but admitted it had pace and spectacle. Christopher Null considered the film one of James Bond's most memorable adventures, but the plot "protracting and quite confusing".[43]

Ali Barclay of BBC Films panned Dahl's script displaying "a whole new world of villainy and technology."[44] Leo Goldsmith lauded the volcano base as "the most impressive of Ken Adam's sets for the franchise."[45Danny 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.”[46]

IGN ranked You Only Live Twice as the fourth best Bond movie,[47] and Entertainment Weekly as the second best, considering that it "pushes the series to the outer edge of coolness".[48] But Norman Wilner of MSN chose it as the fifth worst, criticising the plot, action scenes and little screentime for Blofeld.[49] 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,[50] but he panned the depiction of Blofeld as a "let-down", "small, bald and a whooping scar."[51] Simon Winder said that the film is "perfect" for parodies of the series.[52]

You Only Live Twice has subsequently been parodied, most prominently by the Austin Powers series and its scar-faced, Nehru suit-wearing Dr. Evil.