James Bond
You Only Live Twice
Ultimate Edition 2-Disc DVD Set

Starring: Sean Connery
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
RRP: £16.99
Certificate: PG
Available 17 July 2006

When American and Russian spacecraft are attacked in Earth orbit, the threat of conflict looms between the superpowers. In order to prevent a third world war, James Bond travels to Japan to confront his old adversary, the evil SPECTRE organisation, and comes face to face with its diabolical leader, Ernst Stavro Blofeld...

This was the first Bond movie to radically depart from the plot of the Ian Fleming novel upon which it was supposedly based. Only the Japanese location and the character names of Kissy Suzuki (Mie Hama), "Tiger" Tanaka (Tetsuro Tamba), Ernst Stavro Blofeld (Donald Pleasence) and Henderson (Charles Gray) are retained from the Fleming original. Blofeld's "garden of death" is replaced by a more far-flung concept, befitting the '60s obsession with the US/USSR space race.

In fact, the plot is so different that, with minor tweaking, it could be novelised and placed within the book series as more recent films have been. Bond's dealings with Tiger could become their second encounter, taking place a few years after the original novel. Bond's initial wariness of Tanaka could be attributed to awkwardness resulting from the circumstances of their last encounter, in which Tiger was arguably a party to Kissy's deception of the amnesiac Bond. Kissy herself could also reappear, with Tiger deciding that 007 should resume his ready-made cover as the girl's fiancé. Her initial frostiness in the film could be transferred to Bond in the novelisation, as he might understandably harbour some bitterness towards the woman who took advantage of his memory loss. Bond could also be shocked to learn about the birth of his son, James Suzuki (a character mentioned in the Raymond Benson short story "Blast from the Past"), and angry that Kissy didn't tell him sooner.

On the other hand, the Henderson of the movie is so far removed from Fleming's "Dikko" Henderson that the character's dialogue would have to be significantly rewritten. It would be simpler to just rename him as a different character. Similarly, Blofeld could become some new member of SPECTRE in the novelisation (let's call it You Only Live Thrice, since the proposed book is very much a sequel to Ian Fleming's You Only Live Twice - following Bond's apparent death in Fleming's book, and the agent's faked demise at the beginning of the movie, 007 is now therefore on to his third life).

But back to Blofeld. The film also boasts the distinction of featuring the first direct cinematic confrontation between Bond and SPECTRE's leader, a villain whose face had remained hidden during previous movies. Here Blofeld is played with inimitable menace by Pleasence.

You Only Live Twice is also justly famous for Ken Adam's spectacular set design for SPECTRE's volcano headquarters (the construction of which can be seen in newly discovered vintage footage in the extra feature On Location with Ken Adam). This, together with Pleasence's scarred, bald-headed version of Blofeld, provided Mike Myers with a great deal of source material for his Austin Powers movies.

Certain other elements let this film down upon repeat viewing, though. For instance, when Bond's love interest Aki (Akiko Wakabayashi) is murdered, he recovers from his grief with alarming rapidity. He seems ready to get it on with the next girl within a few short minutes of screen time! And how exactly does Bond's Japanese disguise manage to fall by the wayside? When he sets sail with Kissy, he looks Oriental, but by the time he descends into the volcano, he has become Caucasian once again. Oh well, I guess we shouldn't worry too much about the plot, but instead sit back and enjoy visual treats such as the aerial battle between SPECTRE helicopters and 007's autogyro Little Nellie (the storyboards for which are included among disc 2's special features).

These extras also provide, amongst other revelations, a glimpse - in the documentary Inside You Only Live Twice - of the actor who almost played Blofeld before Pleasence took over at short notice.

New to DVD are excerpts from Alan Whicker's visits to the location shooting for the BBC documentary series Whicker's World and a promotional TV programme Welcome to Japan, Mr. Bond. This 50-minute production, made by the movie producers Albert R Broccoli and Harry Saltzman, is an elaborate clip show featuring specially recorded scenes with Lois Maxwell (Miss Moneypenny) and Desmond Llewelyn (Q). These scenes could actually work within the context of the movie, say between chapters 15 and 16, though scenes featuring some other mysterious characters break through the "fourth wall" by discussing the film and book series.

Despite its reputation as an all-time classic, You Only Live Twice is not without its faults. Still, I'm sure we can live these on DVD... for the second time.

Richard McGinlay

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