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Thursday, August 25, 2016

Fishing in the Discount Bin - You Only Live Twice

Here we go again on Fishing in the Discount Bin, my weekly blog about one of the many movies I own.  Just when I think I'm done with James Bond, I get drawn back in.  Here we've got You Only Live Twice, originally in my notes at November 8, 2015.

I thought I was done buying James Bond films, but it's that time again.  We've got a new Bond film in theatres (as I write this, it's Spectre's opening weekend), and that always means the films get re-released on Blu-Ray at bargain bin prices.  How is a man to refuse?  I was doing through HMV's "2 for $20" racks, I decided to snatch up a "James Bond Goes to Asia" double feature.  First up, from the Sean Connery era, You Only Live Twice.

An American spacecraft mysteriously disappears in orbit.  Their final message says they were under attack by a second spacecraft.  This being the height of the Cold War and the Space Race, the Americans promptly accuse the Russians.  The Russians proclaim innocence, and say if the Americans attack an upcoming Russian space launch as misguided retaliation, it'll be all out war.  The UK, on the other hand, has their own theory.  According to their intel, the mysterious spacecraft went down somewhere in the Sea of Japan.  They speculate that some third party -- perhaps the terrorist organization SPECTRE -- is operating out of Japan in order to stir up Cold War tensions.  The UK promptly dispatches their top agent, James Bond, to Japan to investigate. 

Flemming's original novel has long been praised as a love letter to Japan, as Bond quickly falls in love with its people and culture.  Roald Dahl -- yes, the renowned children's author who gave the world Charlie and the Chocolate Factory -- wrote the screenplay, and lamented that Flemming's novel was more a travelogue than a spy thriller.  And this film is greatly in love with Japan, too, as there's so much lush photography of the Japanese countryside.  However, this being the 1960s, there's still some casual racism at play, such as when Bond dons yellowface to go undercover as a Japanese fisherman in a coastal fishing village. 

But this single film provides the most fodder for James Bond spoofs.  I'm looking at you, Austin Powers.  This is the film where we get a lair in a hollowed-out volcano.  This is where we finally get our first glimpse at Blofeld, the head of SPECTRE, and his appearance in You Only Live Twice formed the basis of Dr. Evil's look. 

I mean, this is where the Bond franchise decided to go big instead of going home.  That volcano lair set, complete with functional monorail and artificial lake in the volcano crater hiding the rocket's entrance, is gigantic.  It was nothing like the Bond films that came before, but definitely set the stage for everything that came after. 

I admit, I got this one mostly for the Japan nostalgia.  When I was home for Christmas a couple years ago, it was on TV.  There's a scene that takes place at Himeji-jo, Japan's largest castle.  In the Bondiverse, it's home to the Japanese secret service's ninja training facility.  As Bond wandered the grounds of Himeji-jo, I boasted to my parents that I had visited there.  "Is it really like in this movie?  With all the ninjas running around?" excitedly asked my father, in all seriousness.  "No, Dad," I said.  "It's just a tourist attraction these days." 

What more can I say?  It's a solid Bond outing. 

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