Everything about this film says big, expansive, ambitious and epic; its sense of scale is astonishing. The pre-titles teaser takes place in outer space, while the bulk of the story is our first foray outside Europe or North America. And more than any of the previous films, this sets the template for a bonkers villain in a ridiculously overdramatic secret base with jumpsuited henchmen, Tannoy announcements and monorails. The sets, it has to be said, are extraordinary: M’s detailed wood-panelled office on board a naval destroyer, the strange golf-ball interior where the US, UK and Soviet bigwigs meet, Osato’s sleek offices, and of course the cavernous secret base inside a volcano (a 45-metre-tall, $1 million set built for real). Meanwhile, filming in real locations has been a genuine boon to this series – can you imagine if they’d done foreign countries on a back lot or in the studio?! – and here Japan is mined for every cliché going. We get bright, neon, commercialised Tokyo, a sumo match with thousands of extras, and even a ninja training camp. Admittedly, none of the guest characters is especially interesting and the story grinds to a standstill about an hour in, but this is still an enjoyable and likeable film. The screenplay is by Roald Dahl, one of the heroes of my childhood. Six hollow volcanoes out of 10.
Bond: For the first time in the series, we see Commander Bond in his naval uniform, while later in the movie he gets a dodgy Japanese makeover (they brush his hair forward and make his face look a bit Asian). “The things I do for England,” he says at one point – I wonder if Sean Connery liked that line.
Villains: Businessman Osato is initially presented as the Big Bad, but we soon learn he works for Blofeld. Posing at Osato’s confidential secretary is Miss Brandt, a Germanic redheaded ballbreaker who looks just fine in some aviation goggles.
Girls: “Why do Chinese girls taste different from all other girls?” Bond asks his pre-titles squeeze, Ling. Once the story’s underway, we meet Aki. She begins by coolly flirting with Bond and darting around Tokyo in a Toyota 2000GT. Later, Bond and Japanese secret service boss Tiger Tanaka get bathed and massaged by four sexy girls in bikinis (“In Japan, men always come first. Women come second,” says Tanaka. “I might just retire here,” quips Bond). Then Aki quietly replaces one of the masseuses and – despite only minor hints of attraction earlier on – offers herself to Bond on a plate. And they say these films are meant as wish fulfillment! After Aki dies, she’s replaced in the story by Kissy, who Bond has to pretend to marry for not very plausible reasons.
Regulars: Both Moneypenny and M are out in the South China Sea, on board a ship and wearing their naval dress. Bond calls her Penny, which happens in the books a fair bit but I think this is a film first. For the second movie running, Q goes into the field to deliver his gadgets (specifically one-man ’copter Little Nellie). And, as mentioned, Blofeld and his cat are back for a third movie – although, it’s over an hour before we’re told he’s behind it all. At first, the convention of hiding his face is maintained, but when Bond meets him so do we: and he’s a suitably deranged, scar-faced Donald Pleasance.
Action: During a fight with a heavy, Bond hits him with a sofa. There’s a novel conclusion to a car chase: one of them gets picked up by a giant magnet suspended from a helicopter and dropped into the sea. The Little Nellie sequence is very good. All hell breaks loose when dozens of ninjas attack Blofeld’s base.
Comedy: We get the best Bond/Moneypenny flirting scene yet (“How was the Chinese girl we set up for you?” “A few more minutes and I’d have found out…”). Charles Gray appears as Henderson, MI6’s man in Japan, and plays the scene with his usual fruity twinkle (“I get the vodka from the doorman at the Russian Embassy… [To himself] That’s not all I get…”).
Music: The incidental music is stunning. Sumptuous. Beautiful. Atmosphere and action are conveyed brilliantly, tension too in the splendid spaceship-jacking scene. After two strident and powerful title songs in a row, Nancy Sinatra’s You Only Live Twice is gentle, soothing and generally lovely.
People I’ve met: The first actor of the series I’ve met is the great, sadly late Ed Bishop – star of Captain Scarlet and UFO, who appears here briefly as flight controller. I interviewed him in 2003.