Friday, 9 December 2011

You Only Live Twice

When I was a kid I watched a lot of the Bond films over and over again. My dad had taped most of them off TV and during the long summer holidays I’d work my through the films, go back to the beginning and start again.

Having seen these films so many times perhaps I’ve burnt myself out. It’s not that I don’t like them, but I just don’t feel a need to watch them. So I reckon it must be the best part of 25 years since I’ve seen You Only Live Twice (1967).

It’s exactly how I remember, yet different. The level of sexism, and frankly smut took me by surprise. Sean Connery’s very first line in the film is: “Why do Chinese girls taste different from other girls?“ sets the tone for relentless innuendo. This was something I more associated with the Roger Moore era than Connery‘s.

Talking of the opening I loved the beginning where senior figures from the world’s great powers are gathered to debate the crisis prompted by the disappearing spaceships. The Soviets and Yanks hurl threats at each other, before a crusty, plummy, voiced Brit gently patronises the willy waggling diplomats. It’s a delicious moment. A reminder that there was once a time when Britain was a genuine world power. How far we have fallen since then.

The other thing which jumped out at me from this revisit was the hilariousness of Connery’s Japanese conversion. It’s the least convincing Japanese fake I’ve seen since I had a Matsui TV. Central to Sean’s remodelling is the donning of a wig. The Bond producers already insisted he wear a hair piece to hide his receding hairline. Now they give him a plot which requires him to wear an absolutely daft one. No wonder Connery said this was going to be his last Bond film.

The great John Barry provides the score. If you ask for my tuppence worth, some of the incidental music is among his best work. The theme song, sung by Nancy Sinatra, is also one of the best of the series.

The plot is pretty loose on this one. It even halts during the scenes where Bond gets married and trains as a ninja. It’s like the scriptwriters went outside for a cigarette and told everyone to carry on without them for 20 minutes.

One bit really puzzled me though. After Bond infiltrates Blofeld’s volcano he disguises himself as an astronaut in order to board the rocket that’s about to launch. What was Bond thinking? He’s not an astronaut. It’s the worst plan ever. Anyway, Blofeld (Donald Pleasance) spots him which gets everyone out of a hole.

So, let’s wrap up these random jottings with the some exploding helicopter talk. Bond has to find Blofeld’s base. He gets Q to come over to Japan with Little Nellie, a heavily armed flat pack helicopter.

Bond’s reconnoitre appears to be fruitless until he suddenly finds himself pursued by four helicopters which open fire on him. In the earlier scence Q had handily briefed Bond and the audience on the different weapons Little Nellie has.

Bond goes with the flame throwers to despatch the first helicopter. A little bobbing and weaving puts Bond above one of the other choppers. So now it’s time for the aerial mines which gently float down on little parachutes blowing up the helicopter and its bemused pilot.

Bond continues to make short work of Spectre’s chopper squadron by blowing up the next with his rockets, before completing the full house by destroying the last with his air to air heat sinking missiles.

Artistic merit

Top notch. You don’t often get to see an aerial dogfight played out just between helicopters. Little Nellie’s range of weaponry means we get to enjoy four, yes four, helicopters being blown up in different ways.

Yes, back projection is used for Connery’s cockpit shots, but this was 1967. It was a different era in special effects. These stunts had to be done for real. This sequence was particularly difficult to film with Little Nellie nearly crashing twice and one cameraman had his foot severed, so let's give director Lewis Gilbert and everyone else involved the credit they're due.

Exploding helicopter innovation

First known use of a do-it-yourself helicopter. And aerial mines. I’ve never seen them before or since.

Number of exploding helicopters

Four. Which ranks it highly in the list of exploding helicopter films alongside, Broken Arrow, Rambo III, and Independence Day.


Helicopter fans get a nice treat earlier in the film when Bond is being pursued in a car chase. Agent Aki (Akiko Wakabayashi) calls up a big Chinook helicopter equipped with a huge magnet. It scoops up the villains car, carries it off and drops it into the ocean.


Even by Bond’s standards the speed with which he moves in on his new Japanese wife after the murder of Aki is rather unseemly. Christ man, she still warm in her grave!

Favourite quote

“Little Nellie got a hot reception. Four big shots made improper advances towards her, but she defended her honour with great success..”

Interesting fact

You Only Live Twice is the only Bond film where 007 does not drive a car.

Review by: Jafo

Still want more? Then listen to the Exploding Helicopter podcast episode on You Only Live Twice. Listen via iTunes, Acast, Sticher, Spotify or right here.


  1. Connery looks a lot like John Saxon in Enter The Dragon in that photo and about as Japanese as a Tetley teabag.

    I miss the days of casual racism.

  2. My favorite part of the movie (besides the exploding helicopters, of course) were the scenes in outer space with that wonderful etheririal music by John Barry.

    Thank you for one of your (as usual) exploding helicopter analysis.

    1. I love those pieces from the soundtrack too. John Barry reworked those pieces and used them again Diamonds Are Forever. Take your pick as to what versions you prefer.