You Only Live Twice is the eleventh novel — and twelfth book — by Ian Fleming featuring James Bond, secret agent 007; it was published in 1964, around the time Fleming died. It was adapted by screenplay writer Roald Dahl as the fifth entry in the James Bond movie series, which was released in 1967, starring Sean Connery as James Bond. The film was produced by Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman and was made by EON Productions. This film is the first Bond movie to deviate from the source material. Other than the Japanese setting, and several characters, the two stories are very different.
James Bond, his career fading after the wedding-day murder of his wife, Tracy, has become distraught after her death nine months ago and is taking unnecessary risks, risking the lives of others and himself.
M meets a friend and co-worker, Sir James Molony, for lunch at the restaurant in Blades for a chat. M seems to have something on his mind. When pressed, he reveals that he is concerned about Bond. M confesses to Molony that he is considering firing Bond or at least putting him in a different department where he would not be a harm to himself or anyone else. Molony convinces M to give Bond just one more chance to redeem himself by giving him a mission that he more than likely couldn't complete, giving him the spur he needed.
The next day, Bond is informed by his secretary Mary Goodnight that he has been summoned into M's office. Bond readies himself to hand in his resignation. He feels guilty for letting his boss, the service and himself down. M is sitting in his desk across from an empty chair. Bond sits down and offers his resignation. To his surprise, he is offered a new project. He is renamed 7777 and given what seems to be a promotion. The catch is that he has to go to Japan to get information out of the head of the Japanese Secret Service, Tiger Tanaka, about cryptography intel on the Soviet Union from a device referred to as the Magic 44.
In Tokyo, Bond meets up with Dikko Henderson of Her Majesty's Australian Diplomatic Corps. After dropping his things off at his hotel, Bond and Dikko went out for a night of drinking. The next day, at another bar called Melody's located off the Ginza, Bond and Dikko are sitting at a table. Dikko slams his fist on the table and recites phrases. He goes to reach under the table, but then goes for his sake. Bond inquires as to what is going on. Dikko angrily replies that they are being listened in on by Tiger's men. He proceeds to talk into the table to tell Tiger what he thinks of him.
Later, Dikko comes to take Bond to meet Tiger. He complains of having a futsukayoi or honorable hangover. They visit the Bamboo Bar where Dikko orders a double brandy and ginger ale. He attempts to rehash what happened the night. Bond reminds him how he philosophized on the world's affairs, and smacked a woman's bottom.
They leave the bar and arrive at a building entitled The Bureau of All-Asian Folkways. Dikko leads Bond through a building that appeared to Bond to be a museum. They went to a door that was marked as the Coordination department. Bond is led by Dikko down a long hallway with rooms on either side where men were sitting at their desks. They go through another hall marked International Relations and into endless other offices.
Bond quickly befriends Tanaka, but seems unable to persuade him to do the British such a large favor. Finally, after two months of friendly boozing and not-so-friendly haggling, Tanaka tells Bond of a Swiss gentleman, Dr. Guntram Shatterhand, a botanist who has built the Garden of Death, a secluded castle on a volcanic island off Kyushu stocked with boiling geysers, carnivorous fish, and poisonous plants and reptiles for the suicidal to use in ending their lives. Bond is incredulous when he asks if the man actually kills people. Tiger explains that he draws people into ending their lives. He explains that he provides a resort that in just 6 months has allowed over 500 people to commit suicide.
It turns out that the doctor had come to Japan with his wife, Frau Shatterhand. They came into Japan with Swiss passports and were described as horticulturalists and botanists. They were interested in opening up an exotic garden in Japan. After announcing that they were willing to invest one million pounds in the project, they were given clearance and a ten year residence permit. The doctor traveled the country and found a castle in Kyushu, on the southern-most island. The property was very remote and particularly volcanic. It was close to Fukuoka, used at one time to stave off Korean attacks. In exchange for the Magic 44, Tanaka asks Bond to kill Dr. Shatterhand. Bond is renamed by Tiger while on this mission as Taro Todoroki (trans. first son of thunder).
The next day, Tiger takes Bond to a bathhouse where he is ordered into a box for ten minutes. Then, he is removed and a dye applied to him, changing his appearance. His hair is cut into the Japanese style. Tiger tells Bond he will go through training to learn the way of life in Japan and to enjoy each new experience. Tiger puts Bond through a series of tests, all of which he passes. They travel to Kyoto where Tiger's training school is located. There, they watch the training commence and witness firsthand an accident. One man who was training to climb a two-hundred foot wall lost his footing. He fell into the moat below and drowned.
The next day, Tiger and Bond visit what was once a house of ill-repute now turned into a national monument as prostitution was illegal in Japan. After showing respect to the curators by bowing, Bond became impatient and complained. Tiger told him how the place was before it became a museum. He tells a story of people eating, drinking and writing haikus. Tiger tells Bond of many poets who wrote haikus. One in particular, Basho, lived in the seventeenth century and wrote haikus that had seventeen syllables. He recites a few to no avail. Bond couldn't get the hang of them. So, he makes up his own:
- "You only live twice:
- Once when you're born,
- And once when you look death in the face."
It was the next morning and, at promptly 6:00 am, the Prefect of Police in Fukuoka sent a car for Tiger and Bond with tow policeman in the front seat. They were driving along a freeway when they noticed they were being followed. Bond realizes it could be the man who stole his wallet on the train. The driver comes up on their side. He is wearing a white mask and reaches inside his jacket. Bond exclaims to watch out as it looks like he may be armed. The corporal driving the car leaps out of the window and tackles the man into a ditch, stabbing him to death. They stop the car, and Tiger goes to check on the man. He is surprised to see that he is a Black Dragon.
While studying documents and maps of the castle to devise a plan, Bond notices photos of his target. Bond is shocked when he discovers that Shatterhand is actually an assumed identity of his nemesis Ernst Stavro Blofeld, and gladly takes to the mission with renewed vigour. Bond keeps his knowledge of Blofeld a secret so that he can exact his revenge for the death of his wife.
Bond and Tiger board a boat and head to the Sea of Genkai to the Kuro Island where Bond would meet Kissy Suzuki and her family to complete his training. Tiger notices that something is weighing heavily on Bond's mind. He tries to cheer him up by reminding him of all the new experiences he would soon have and the new women he would meet, especially Kissy, known as the Japanese Greta Garbo. Kissy is an Ama diver and former Hollywood actress. She is distantly related to a local agent of Tiger Tanaka and is, therefore, asked to assist Bond. Bond stays with Kissy's family on Kuro Island near the castle in preparation for his mission.
Bond convinces Kissy to take him to see the castle. She believes he is the man sent by the guardians. He tells her he is a foreigner and has approval. She accepts it and agrees to guide him. Kissy helps Bond across the river to the castle. He leaves her behind to climb the two-hundred foot wall and makes his way over the edge. He crawls along the wall, making his way into the park and finds his way inside the grounds and into the castle. Bond sets up camp in a hut made out of sacking and waits for his opportunity to seek out Blofeld.
While in his hideout, he witnesses two deaths firsthand. The first was a man who was running through the grounds with a swollen head and face. The man stops and sees the lake filled with piranha and throws himself in. The second death was a well-dressed man who looked to be a businessman who walks dignified through the garden, carrying an umbrella and mumbling unknown phrases to himself.
Bond waits in his hideout while he listens to everyday sounds going on in the park. There are workers in protective gear laughing and talking like people would do every day. He checks his watch and notices it is 9 a.m. and decides to wait until dark after the work day ends to complete his mission.
He sees Blofeld and his wife, Irma Bunt, coming through the grounds an hour later. Blofeld is carrying a long samurai sword and wearing armour and a spiked helmet. Irma's head is covered in a bee-keepers hat that is dark green. Bond watched to see how the workers would react around them, if they would show respect or show their true feelings for this truly hated man when he wasn't aware. However, they seemed truly respectful and totally devoted to their work.
That evening, Bond sneaks out of the hut and creeps carefully across the yard, making sure that he avoids the volcanic fumaroles and all the poisonous affects in the area. He makes his way across the path that he had designated for himself and finds the door to the castle. He slips in and enters a room filled with food supplies. He climbs the stairs, making his way through darkness. He opens door after door, making his way higher through the castle and is careful not to make a sound to call attention to himself. He makes his way to one door in which the inside of the room is dimly lit. He opens the latch and enters the Castle of Death.
Bond is led into a room with ten guards, Blofeld and Bunt. He is beaten ten times with staves and kicked one of the guards between the legs in defense. He also attacked other guards with a chair. In the end, he was ordered into the Question Room. He is put in a seat above a volcanic geyser. Blofeld tells him that the geyser goes off every fifteen minutes and being that it was 11:00, it would go off at 11:15. He says that if Bond stayed in the seat, his lower half would be incinerated. If he left the seat, his identity would be confirmed. Bond sits in the chair and attempts to find something that would stop the geyser from going off, which proved to be difficult with a guard sitting in the room. At 11:14, he decided to confirm he was indeed Bond and Blofeld has him taken away for questioning
Blofeld dismisses Bond’s claims that MI6 and the Japanese secret service knew his identity. Blofeld tells Bond he likens himself to Frederick the Great, Nietzche and Van Gogh. He considers himself to be a genius. He tells Bond of his plots and how they had a greater purpose in a broader, foresighted view in his opinion in an attempt to justify his past schemes. He goes on to glorify suicide to Bond as what he believes is a service for people who want a way out.
Bond then hurls a stave at Irma Bunt, hitting her in the head and knocking her unconscious. He and Blofeld then engage in a duel where Bond succeeds in disarming Blofeld of his sword, then proceeding to kill Blofeld by strangulation. He stalks to the torture room and finds the wooden box with the wheel in it. He then hacks it open with Blofeld’s sword and closes the wheel by twisting it down.
Bond realizes he needs to find a way out immediately, but there are guards in his way. He smashes open a window and jumps out to a helium balloon carrying him over the garden, out to sea. Blofeld’s castle is then destroyed in an eruption, killing all inside. Debris flies everywhere and hits Bond in the head, causing him to soon lose consciousness and let go of the balloon, falling into the sea below.
Kissy finds Bond as he was falling off the wall into the water. She swam to him as fast as she could. When he first saw her, he believed she was his enemy and tried to hit her. She told him who she was and inquired of his knowledge of her. He had no memory of her. In fact, he has no memory of anything but Blofeld's face. Kissy rescues him and brings him back to her family's home where he had slept. He awoke and asked her who he was and how he got there. She tells him his name is Taro Todoroki, and he is her lover. She convinces him that he has fallen after climbing cliffs for seagull eggs. Kissy convinces the village elders and priest to not say anything about his presence on the island and promises to nurse him back to health herself. Officials, including Tiger and Dikko, came several times to the island in search of Bond but the villagers plead no knowledge of his whereabouts.
At the novel's end, however, Bond finds a paper slip with the name Vladivostok written on it, making him wonder if the far-off Russian city is the key to his missing memory. Unbeknownst to Bond, Kissy reveals, in thought, that she is pregnant.
An obituary written by M is published in The Times for Commander James Bond, C.M.G., R.N.V.R., featuring the majority of his biography, per Fleming. It includes his parents' names, their fate, and Bond's Royal Navy service. Most notably, the obituary refers to a series of sensational novels about his exploits — a clearly post-modern reference to Fleming's work, and the source of rumours that James Bond was based upon a real man. The book James Bond: The Authorised Biography of 007 is based upon that premise. Additionally, the same chapter includes an epitaph by Mary Goodnight (M.G.).
You Only Live Twice is the concluding chapter in what is known as the 'Blofeld Trilogy'. The trilogy began with Thunderball and after the interlude novel The Spy Who Loved Me, resumed with On Her Majesty's Secret Service.
It has been suggested that Fleming had chosen to retire the Bond series with this novel, but later changed his mind and wrote The Man with the Golden Gun.
You Only Live Twice also marks the final appearance of Ernst Stavro Blofeld and references to his criminal organization, S.P.E.C.T.R.E. in Fleming's novels. A later novel, For Special Services, by John Gardner, features a rebirth of S.P.E.C.T.R.E. as well as Role of Honour and Nobody Lives For Ever.
The title of the novel is often mistaken as being the work of a Japanese poet named Matsuo Basho; however, the unique title comes from a haiku that James Bond wrote for his friend Tiger Tanaka. It is also mentioned in the novel that it isn't a haiku at all, that in actuality it is a failed attempt by Bond after being taught the basics for creating a haiku.
In the epigraph (and explained in the novel), the haiku is listed as being "after Basho", meaning written in the poet's style.
- "You only live twice:
- Once when you're born,
- And once when you look death in the face."
- This is the only Fleming novel in which Bond is given a designation other than 007. He was never again referred to as 7777, and by the next novel had returned to double-0 status.
- David Niven is specifically mentioned by Kissy Suzuki as the only respectable man in Hollywood. Niven later played "Sir James Bond" in the 1967 spoof, Casino Royale. Niven had also been considered for the role officially for Dr. No in 1962.
- Bond quips to Blofeld that his plot should be made into a Broadway theatre musical, set by Noel Coward. Coward was a long-time friend of Ian Fleming's, and they both spent the latter part of their lives living in Jamaica. Coward had also been invited to play Dr. No in the first Bond film, but had declined.
- The first volume of The Moneypenny Diaries by Samantha Weinberg (published under a pseudonym) covers some of the events occurring between On Her Majesty's Secret Service and You Only Live Twice.
- Fleming did not resolve the issue of Kissy's pregnancy in the remaining Bond stories he wrote before his death. Bond's son appears for the first (and only) time in Benson's sequel, "Blast from the Past".
Comic strip adaptation
Ian Fleming's novel was adapted as a daily comic strip published in the British Daily Express newspaper, and syndicated worldwide. The adaptation ran from May 18, 1965 to January 8, 1966, was written by Henry Gammidge and illustrated by John McLusky. It was the final James Bond strip for Gammidge, while McClusky returned to illustrating the strip in the 1980s. The strip was reprinted by Titan Books in 2004.
In the segment featuring Bond's obituary there is a reference to "sensationalistic novels" written about Bond's adventures (as in the novel's plot summary, above), wherein artist McLusky uses actual covers of Fleming's books.