(pb; 1964: twelfth book in the original 007/James Bond series)
Caveat: spoilers in this review.
It's been nine months since Ernesto Stavro Blofeld and Fraulein Irma Bunt gunned down Tracy di Vincenzo, Bond's bride of a few hours, on their honeymoon. Bond is an emotional and professional wreck.
M., concerned about one of his best agents, figures 007 needs a real challenge to kick him out of his doldrums. So M. sends Bond to Japan to get additional intel on the Russian drug trade from Tiger Tanaka, the samurai-hearted head of the Japanese Secret Service.
Tanaka agrees to give Bond unofficial access to the Russian files (dubbed "MAGIC 44"), if Bond will do him a big favor -- also off the record.
The favor: kill Doctor Guntram Shatterhand, a Swiss multimillionaire and amateur botanist, whose remote island castle in Kyushu houses a "garden of death," where five hundred or more Japanese people have gone to commit culturally-approved suicide. This garden is full of rare poisonous plants and animals; one wrong move there means instantaneous, painful expiration.
Tanaka considers Shatterhand, as well as Shatterhand's wife, the ugly Emmy, a mass murderer. And he sees no end to these "honorable" killings, so the only way to stop them is by killing the Shatterhands. Since Tanaka would face repercussions for such actions, it falls to Bond to do the deeds.
Bond accepts the secret assignment: the intel is too important. Also, more importantly, Bond is startled when he recognizes the Shatterhands from their photos -- they're Ernesto Stavro Blofeld and Fraulein Irma Bunt, who killed Tracy at the end of On Her Majesty's Secret Service.
Helped by Kissy Suzuki, a one-time Hollywood film star and Ama awabi shell diver, Bond infiltrates Blofeld's private garden. Once inside the garden, Bond confronts Blofeld and Bunt, once and for all...
Structurally, You Only Live Twice is a template replica of Doctor No, but Twice's location -- Japan, with its distinctive social mores -- renders that (possible) complaint moot. Not only that, but Bond's attitude is different; he's resumed his womanizing ways, but he's less cool in how he handles his women: his dead bride has humanized him a bit more.
You Only Live Twice is not as radical, tone-wise, as On Her Majesty's is, nor is the cliffhanger ending as shocking, but it is a stand-out entry in a consistently-pleasing series.
Followed by The Man with the Golden Gun.
You Only Live Twice was released stateside as a film on June 13,1967.
Sean Connery played Bond. Mie Hama played Kissy Suzuki. Tetsuro Tamba played Tiger Tanaka. Donald Pleasence played Ernesto Stavro Blofeld. Charles Gray (who later played Blofeld in Diamonds Are Forever) played Dikko Henderson.
Bernard Lee played M.. Lois Maxwell played Moneypenny. Desmond Llewelyn played Q (whose character is not in the novel). Burt Kwouk played "SPECTRE #3".
Roald Dahl wrote the screenplay.
Lewis Gilbert (who also lensed The Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker) directed.
(Side-note: Fleming gives a shout-out to David Niven, who would later play one of the James Bonds in the 1967 version of Casino Royale, when Kissy Suzuki, talking about her Hollywood experiences, tells Bond: "They were all disgusting to me in Hollywood... Nobody treated me honourably except for [David] Niven.")