How YouOnlyLiveTwice became the cursed Bond helmed by an angry Sean Connery
When actors speak of “nearly being killed” on film sets, it’s usually more than a little exaggerated. “Sleeping in that giant dead bear nearly froze me to death”, certain A-listers cry, or “I nearly-buttotally-didn’t die clinging onto the side of that plane.” But in the case of You Only Live Twice, the 1967 James Bond film that turns 50 last month, “nearly being killed” takes on a far more literal meaning.
In Japan to scout locations for the film, numerous crew, including director Lewis Gilbert and producers Albert “Cubby” Broccoli and Harry Saltzman, were booked to return to London on Boeing Flight 911, until they were suddenly alerted to the offer of a Ninja demonstration that same day. The crew changed their flights at the last minute, and looked on in horror as their original flight crashed into a mountain, killing all 124 on board.
While the Bond crew narrowly avoided death, the plane crash did operate as something of a bad omen for the film itself, which experienced everything from an angry leading man and a suicidal leading lady, to amputations and cultural uproar during its production.
An unhappy Sean Connery
The aftermath of the plane crash only seemed to add to the dark cloud hovering over the set, amplified by tensions between Sean Connery and Broccoli, and Connery’s general unhappiness at playing Bond for the fifth time. He believed the character had become boring, particularly as Bond hadn’t been developed past his surface characteristics during his franchise tenure. The fighting between both men got so bad that Connery refused to leave his trailer if Broccoli was on the set.
At this point in Bond history, Connery had also become an international superstar, but the level of attention he was experiencing was driving him to distraction. An incident in which Japanese photographers pursued him into a public bathroom left him infuriated, but it was repeated encounters with a stalker, who seemed to trail Connery throughout filming, that appeared to be the straw that broke the camel’s back.
Connery was also vocal about his displeasure with his salary, which amounted to $750,000 plus 25 per cent of merchandising profits. He made it publicly known that he would only return to the franchise for a sixth film if Bond rights owners Eon Productions paid him a million dollars plus a percentage of the film’s gross. Their dismissal of his demands resulted in the role being briefly assumed by the infamously problematic George Lazenby. Connery would return for one more “official” bond film in 1971, but only to get two of his passion projects financed.
Hilary Saltzman, daughter of original Bond producer Harry Saltzman, has said that Connery’s rifts with her father and Broccoli left her feeling disappointed.
“I felt a little sad. You created something and now suddenly you have these splinters and split-offs,” she told Fox411 in 2012. “Yes, he was a great Bond, but he’s had some extraordinary films and some extraordinary roles since. It’s sad to me that he can’t focus on the accomplishments that he was able to have as a result of being Bond, as opposed to thinking he got stumped for some short change.”
The actress that threatened to jump out a window
At the same time as Connery was proving to be trouble, the film was WithLove,
also struggling to cast its two leading female roles: a Japanese secret agent named Aki, to be killed off and clumsily forgotten about partway through the film, and her immediate replacement, another secret agent named Kissy Suzuki. The production eventually zeroed in on two up-and-coming Japanese actresses, Mie Hama and Akiko Wakabayashi, both of whom had recently starred in the local hit King Kong vs. Godzilla.
Unfortunately, neither actress could speak English, forcing the production team to send both of them to London for six months of lessons. The lessons proved more effective for Wakabayashi than Hama, however. Frustrated, Lewis Gilbert confided in Hama’s friend and costar Tetsuro Tamba that he was to drop Hama from the film and replace her with a different actress, and requested Tamba inform her of the news.
“The next morning I asked Tam- ba ‘How did it go with Mie?’ ” Gilbert revealed in an interview. “Tamba told me, ‘Mie had lost face, and feels that she is a disgrace to her family and will jump out of her hotel window tonight.’ ‘You can’t be serious,’ I said to Tamba. ‘Oh yes, she is a hundred percent serious. She will jump,’ he said.
“Well, that really scared the hell out of me,” Gilbert continued. “I didn’t want a young woman’s death on my conscience, nor did the producers want that kind of publicity. So I told Tamba to tell her to stay and that she would be in the movie.”
Gilbert’s way around Hama’s suicide threat was to have both she and Wakabayashi swap parts, factoring in that the Kissy character had significantly less lines than Aki. Hama walked back on her threat to leap out of a window and portrayed the part — awkwardly, Hama still ended up being dubbed, becoming one of Only Live Twice.
The casual racism
In hindsight, You Only Live Twice is a road trip through every Japanese stereotype imaginable, from sumo wrestler cameos to Ninjas and subservient women (“I should retire here,” Bond quips when he is informed that women come second to men in Japanese society). There’s
Sean Connery (right) and Danielle Bianchi in the James Bond film From 1963.