Spacecraft are disappearing – could this be a plot by the Americans? Or the Russians? But spacecraft from both sides are disappearing. Who has the resources to open a 3rd place in the Space Race? Hmmm…
The opening credits show Japanese women in geisha-type hairstyles over a background of volcanoes. Is this film taking place in Japan? Yes it is, and this is the one where Bond pretends to be Japanese. (there are no words for this.) And because this film is set in Asia, it’s a chance to objectify a whole race of women all at once. But I’ll get to that in a minute. Nancy Sinatra sings the theme tune. The film producer Cubby Broccoli wanted his mate Frank to sing it but Frank suggested they offer it to his daughter instead. Apparently it’s considered a classic amongst Bond themes. I’m not convinced, and I’m not convinced it sounds very Bond-ish either. Although the drifting strings of the intro sound not unlike another John Barry composition – the theme music to Out of Africa.
Exotic locations: As noted earlier, the film is set almost entirely in Japan, so stereotypes abound. But you do get a glimpse of a Sumo wrestling match which is interesting. But you also get an awful scene set in a traditional Japanese bath house with Bond, Tanaka (head of the Japanese secret service) and four girls in bikinis. Even for a Bond movie, this scene stands out with the number of double entendres. “In Japan, men always come first,” says Tanaka, head of the Japanese secret service, to Bond.
(By the way, if anything in the screenplay offends you, blame popular children’s author Ronald Dahl, who wrote it!)
Despite the stereotyping of ‘background women’, the two main Japanese female agents are smart, strong women. Aki rescues Bond from men trying to kill him twice but (*spoiler alert*) her emotional attraction to Bond gets her killed. Kissy Suzuki (I’m not sure this name makes the top 5 offensive names but I’m holding it in reserve), who Tanaka joking describes as having “a face like a pig” (thanks, boss!), “marries” Bond in a traditional ceremony so he can go undercover in a small fishing village. Kissy swims across a bay, scales a volcano and climbs down the other side, then climbs out of the volcano, down the other side and swims back across the bay to signal for help, before coming back to scale the volcano and climb down the other side for the final shoot out scene – all while wearing a bikini. That woman has some kind of superhuman strength!
Traditional spycraft is reduced to a gimmicky minimum in this film – when Bond breaks into an office, he just happens to have his special safe cracking device with him. And of course the background to the whole plot is the Cold War Space Race tensions (the USA was only two years away from landing a man on the moon at this time.)
(*spoiler alert*) The villain of this film again is SPECTRE, represented through their agents in Japan, Mr Osato and his assistant Helga Brandt. SPECTRE’s aim here is to stir up war between the USA and the USSR for an unnamed third country. In this film we finally see more than the hands and cat of the man who heads SPECTRE – we see his face and learn his name – Ernst Stavro Blofeld. Here we also see the harsh nature of SPECTRE’s performance reviews. You may have had some nasty performance reviews in your time, but did you boss ever tell you off for doing a bad job and then feed you to his pet piranhas? Feel sorry for Helga Brandt, who blew up a perfectly good plane but still managed to not kill Bond and ended up as fish food as a result. As my husband observed, “No-one who works for SPECTRE looks like they enjoy it.” Even Blofeld’s cat doesn’t enjoy working for SPECTRE. See how unhappy the cat is during the scene with the explosions at the end. (The actor playing Blofeld must have had some serious scratches on his arm after filming that scene, but fair play to him for keeping hold of a very angry and upset cat.)
Film epilogue: When Kissy finds out her boss, Tanaka, said she had a face like a pig, and when she got absolutely no pay rise for her superhuman feats of endurance with the volcano and the swimming as described above, she quits the secret service and goes to work for the Yakuza. She’s the first woman to reach senior management in the Yakuza and sets up a mentoring programme for women in the organisation, ensuring they adhere to high standards, not just of loyalty to the organisation but also high standards of physical fitness. If you see a Japanese woman winning some kind of long distance extreme marathon, she was probably trained by Kissy.