Review: Films Set In Japan – ‘You Only Live Twice’ (1967)

After a gap of four years the 23rd James Bond film ‘Sky Fall‘ is nearly here, 50 years since the release of ‘Dr No‘ starring Sean Connery. The Scot went on to make six official 007 films (plus non-Eon Bond film ‘Never Say Never Again‘) with my favourite being ‘You Only Live Twice‘ in 1967 which is partly responsible for my filming locations fascination and the inspiration for me going on to watch many more international films set in Japan thereby leading to this series of reviews on the subject.

This was the first film I remember watching which offered an insight into the country that has been my home for many years now. From the haunting but beautiful sweeping sounds of Nancy Sinatra’s soundtrack to the exotic oriental locations this film really does develop a flavour for Japan with its beautiful women, emerging technology and ancient customs.

 

The stakes are high in this film with the threat of World War III. The catalyst for this threat comes after a spacecraft is hijacked which sees both America and Russia blame each other. British Intelligence discover that an Unidentified Flying Object went down into the seas of Japan and so agent 007 is despatched to the Far East. Not wanting him to be distracted by old enemies under such pressure and time constraints Bond’s death is faked.

Bond forms an alliance with Tiger Tanaka, the Head of the Japanese Secret Service who many years later would reappear in the 007 novel ‘The Man With The Red Tattoo‘ which I finally read last year. Naturally, Tiger’s competent agent is a female called Aki who Bond gets together with before she goes the way of so many other Bond girls. But thats ok as she is easily replaced a short time later with another girl….or two!

As ever with Bond films I really don’t think the storyline is of paramount importance as the reason fans watch these films is to see the action scenes, the Bond girls, the lines, the villains and Bond’s charm and seduction when in the face of adversity as he often is.

This 007 film in particular played a huge part in giving Mike Myers his ideas for spoof agent Austin Powers such as the incredibly evil villain with his white cat who has a pedal that when pressed sees the floor taken from beneath his victim. There’s also the gigantic lair with guys in the background turning knobs to make it look like they’re doing something. The volcano base set is an elaborate one and the mysterious man stroking the cat is finally revealed to be Ernst Stravo Blofeld for a few brief scenes 100 minutes into the movie.

You Only Live Twice‘ may tire a bit in the second half but overall its a fun movie and on top of some nostalgic Japanese scenery it also features the “Little Nellie” helicopter which is one of the most beloved Q gadgets (used by Bond to explore the volcano area). As well as Blofeld finally being unveiled we also see the absurd plot whereby Bond is transformed into a Japanese man to maintain cover on his secret mission which can probably be attributed to (or blamed for) the many documentaries we’ve seen over the years with celebrity presenters throwing themselves into Japanese culture.

 

Tokyo Fox Rating 8/10

You can see my ‘You Only Live Twice‘ Japan filming locations here and here.

Tokyo Filming Locations Pt I: You Only Live Twice

One of the first major international films to use Japan’s capital as a backdrop was the 1967 James Bond film ‘You Only Live Twice’ starring Sean Connery. Despite being killed off before Nancy Sinatra’s beautiful 007 theme kicks in its just a crafy strategy. Bond goes on a mission to Japan 16 minutes into the film starting at the sumo arena (more commonly known as Kokugikan) in Ryogoku. He enters the changing rooms where yokozuna (‘grand champion’) Sadanoyama Shinmatsu gives him his ticket and the match is between Kotozakura Masakatsu and Fujinishiki Takemitsu which he seemingly only watches for a few moments before leaving with Aki. The address is 1-3-28 Yokoami, Sumida-ku.

   

The New Otani Hotel at 4-1 Kioi-cho, Chiyoda-ku near Akasaka-Mitsuke station plays the part of Osato Chemicals exterior for a few brief moments after 24, 28, 36 and 41 minutes. Its small, but peaceful gardens round the back are worth a visit for anyone wishing to take a break from the concrete jungle.

 

 

Bond escapes Osata Chemicals in a car with the help of Aki who avoids his questions which makes him suspicious and she flees to a secluded subway station which is Nakano-Shimbashi on the Marunouchi Line (28 mins). This is the private transportation hub of Japanese secret service leader “Tiger” Tanaka who many years later appeared in Raymond Benson’s ‘The Man With The Red Tattoo’ book. Bond is hot on her trail and follows her down the steps seen below right and on to the platform which is obviously a bit different these days. Believe it or not taking such simple photos wasn’t quite so straightforward as when I was down the far end of the platform a member of staff came down to tell me not to take photos. I asked him why not a few times before giving up as people just don’t question rules in this country. He must have seen me on the CCTV cameras but thankfully I’d got my shot just before he intervened.

      

On yet another escape from Osata Chemicals, Bond and Aki drive by Yoyogi National Gymnasium (above right) on 42 mins. This escape leads them well away from Tokyo to the docks of Kobe where he tries to dodge SPECTRE agents. The photo below left was taken in Kobe Harbour in May and the red bridge in the background appears briefly before the exciting roof-top scene below right.

 

The helicoptor flight (54 mins) was filmed above Ebino in Miyazaki prefecture. Himeji castle appears after 69 mins and is under extensive reconstruction at the moment but luckily I captured it back in 2005. This white castle is the Ninja training school where Bond turns Japanese and the shots below all get a second or two of screen time!

     

After Aki meets her inevitable demise, Bond limbers up (76 mins) in the West Bailey. When I was in Himeji back in May I had only one screenshot with me and was most surprised to see that the stone statue thing behind Sean Connery was still knocking about. Needless to say I was the only person in the whole place who took an interest in this piece of concrete!

 

Kirishima National Park in Kagoshima (on Japan’s southern main island) is the extinct volcano which can be seen briefly on 87 mins with the interior of Bolfeld’s hideout filmed back in the UK at Pinewood studios.

See other James Bond filming locations by clicking on the cities below:

London   Prague   Venice   Como   Istanbul   Las Vegas

Review: Books Set In Japan – ‘The Man With The Red Tattoo’ (2002)

A slight tweak on my ‘Review: Films Set In Japan…’ series for this one-off special book review. I’ve never read any 007 novels and I only came across this a couple of years back when I was surfing the net in search of the filming locations for the 1967 film ‘You Only Live Twice’. I’d forgotten all about it until I saw it in a second hand book shop a few weeks ago so I picked it up (I paid for it too!) as I was interested to see what parts of Japan the story takes place in.

  

This James Bond adventure was written by Raymond Benson and is in some ways the natural follow-up to the aforementioned movie even though they are over thirty years apart. Of course Bond never really ages and his ally Tiger Tanaka is back albeit not in tip-top condition following a triple bypass.

The book doesn’t stray too far from the film formula with a host of symmetrical characters and sets. For example, Agent Rieko Tamura is a carbon-copy of Agent Aki in ‘You Only Live Twice’ and Bond experiences traditional Japanese culture this time via a chase through the Kabuki theatre as opposed to going to see some sumo action in ‘You Only Live Twice’.

Unlike the Bourne franchise, Bond stories have always taken place at famous sites around the world and this book is no exception as it features Hachiko, Meiji shrine, Yoyogi Park, Kabuki-cho in Shinjuku, Tsukiji fish market, Kabuki-za theatre, the Great Buddha in Kamakura as well as places up in Hokkaido which I’m not familiar with. As a locations geek I’m never too keen to see such landmark places appear in stories and this particular one did feel like a guide-book at times as the history of the places was worked into the story. Maybe thats ok for readers who don’t know about Japan but personally I didn’t see a need for such lengthy background of the places featured. Chases through both Tsukiji fish market and Kabuki-za seem to only happen in order to give the author a chance to pad out the book with some facts about those places.

I found the book fairly easy to read and therein lies a kind-of problem as I often fail to get a proper real grasp of the plots in the movies but thats almost of secondary concern among the gadgets, girls, catchphrases and action.

The photos below are of places that feature in ‘The Man With The Red Tattoo”:

Top line: Hachiko statue outside Shibuya station & Meiji Shrine in Harajuku

2nd line: Mejiji Shrine outer gate, Harajuku & Studio Alta in Shinjuku

3rd line: Kabukicho area in Shinjuku

4th line: Bond stays on the 30th floor of the Imperial Tower which is part of the Imperial Hotel & Tsukiji fish market

5th line: The remains of Kabuki-za theatre in Ginza & The Great Buddha, Kamakura

Bottom line: Takanawa Prince Hotel in Shinagawa