Saturday, 17 October 2015

007 - You Only Live Twice

Ian Fleming's You Only Live Twice concerns a heartbroken Bond drinking himself into oblivion before hiding in a bizarre suicide garden hoping, praying, for a shot at revenge. Since the book series had been adapted wildly out of order, the relationship between Bond and Blofeld hadn't yet developed into outright hatred - the pair still hadn't even met.

Given the book's despairing tone, the task fell to former MI6 intelligence officer-cum-children's author Roald Dahl to fabricate an alternative Bond adventure. You Only Live Twice is a bit of a best-of compilation then, taking the fantastical, constituent parts of the first four Eon productions and combining them into a 007 super-narrative. Every idea that has ever landed onscreen is shovelled in, the obvious manufacturing process assuaged by Dahl's sly wit.

You Only Live Twice takes the British superpower wish-fulfilment and dials it up into a knowing kind of absurdity. An opening conference in a frozen Norwegian radar station has Russian and American delegates at each other's throats, each blaming the other for their disappearing spacecraft. A well-spoken British diplomat sits in the centre and chides them both for being so short-sighted. It's a stance not that far removed from the one Japan was seen to take in films like Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster, an old colonial hand patiently reprimanding the up-and-coming world powers.

After faking his death in Hong Kong Bond goes undercover in Japan, posing as the kind of business executive who thinks it's entirely proper to carry a pistol. After 007's paper-thin cover is exposed he's whisked off to a fishing village and disguised as a local so he and his allies can nose around SPECTRE's latest extortion. This deception involves putting a noticeably older, not to mention thicker, Sean Connery in a lank black wig that makes him look like Deliverance era Burt Reynolds playing Frankenstein's monster. Somehow the actor carries it off with his usual louche aplomb.

Alfie director Lewis Gilbert continues the greatest hits vibe by deferring to a house style that cannibalises the most desirable aspects of Terence Young and Guy Hamilton's work. Gilbert's eye may creep over Ken Adam's beautiful ultra-modernist sets and the Toho starlets, but he never lingers coldly like Young. Similarly, although the new director's work has some Hamilton pep there's less sense he's reaching for some cosmic, structural joke. Gilbert is just a safe pair of hands.

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