Once again it is time for Fleming Revisited, the Last Movie Outpost quest to re-read all of Ian Fleming’s James Bond novels in order of publication and discuss them here. This time around we tackle You Only Live Twice.

You can read all of our previous entries here starting with Casino RoyaleLive And Let DieMoonrakerDiamonds Are Forever, From Russia With LoveDr. No, Goldfinger, and For Your Eyes Only.

Now we are deep into the S.P.E.C.T.R.E. trilogy. After Thunderball introduced 007’s most famous adversary, via a quick detour into The Spy Who Loved Me, we covered the BIG ONE – On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.

Ernst Stavro Blofeld’s terrible vengeance on James Bond has been carried out. Bond’s life is in ruins, and that is where we find him at the beginning of You Only Live Twice. But first…

One Life For Yourself

Do not expect almost anything from the movie to be in the book, and vice versa. You Only Live Twice was famously the first James Bond movie to discard most of Fleming’s plot, using only a few characters and locations from the book as the background for an entirely new story.

Famous writer Roald Dahl (Charlie And The Chocolate Factory) ditched practically all of Fleming’s novel to create a brand new story. This set the tone for the cinematic 007 to completely diverge from the literary version, something which would only increase over time.

The book features no volcano lair. No ninja assault. No space capsule gobbling rockets. No Osato Chemicals, and the infamous scene where Connery becomes Japanese from the movie is much toned down.

What we have instead is a thriller that remains in one location, Japan, for the entire book. The briefing and mission description is told by Bond in flashback, as he remembers why he is in Japan. After Tracy’s death, Blofeld’s revenge, Bond is seen as a liability by M. He is drinking too much, not focussed, and significantly off the pace. These elements were borrowed for the movie Skyfall.

M has already given Bond easy assignments and has lost patience. With no room for sentimentality, he removes Bond’s 00-status and gives him one final chance to redeem himself. He is to travel to Japan as a diplomatic agent, number 7777, and meet with Tiger Tanaka who is the head of the Japanese Secret Service. He will negotiate with Tanaka for the British to have access to their signals intelligence that has a very deep penetration of Eastern Russian activity.

Bond learns about Japanese culture from Tanaka, and the novel takes its name from Bond’s attempts at a Haiku, written in the style of Japanese poet Matsuo Bashō:

You only live twice:
Once when you are born
And once when you look death in the face

Tanaka and Bond grow to respect one another and Tanaka asks Bond to complete a task for him in order to earn the right to access the signals intelligence. Kill Dr. Guntram Shatterhand.

Shatterhand lives in a restored Japanese castle and was given permission by the Japanese government to create a biological preserve. All manner of imported, deadly plants were installed in the gardens surrounding the castle, ostensibly for scientific study. Poisonous snakes and spiders are allowed to flourish in this garden. There is even a lake stocked with piranha from the Amazon, the inspiration for Blofeld’s own piranha tank in the movie.

The issue, discussed at length in the novel, is the Japanese predilection for depression and suicidal tendencies. Thousands now flock there to commit suicide in this “Garden Of Death” and it is of great embarrassment to the Japanese Government. Tanaka has already sent in one operative who failed to return. Complete this mission, and Tanaka promises Bond full access to the intelligence.

The name “Shatterhand” has long been bandied about, every time a new 007 movie is greenlit, as a potential title. There was a rumor that Rami Malek’s character in No Time To Die may be some kind of adaption of Shatterhand. Indeed, the trailer for that movie seems to show Malek’s character on an island, in a garden, opining about wanting to help make the world tidier. We will find out in October when No Time To Die is released.

While studying Dr. Shatterhand, Bond becomes aware that the doctor and his “wife” are none other than Ernst Stavro Blofeld and Irma Bunt, in exile. The murderers of his beloved Tracy. Not telling Tanaka his reasons, Bond accepts the mission and sets off on a journey across Japan to get his revenge.

And One For Your Dreams

Along the way he takes cover as a mute Japanese coal miner, living among the villagers in a nearby fishing community on an island near Shatterhand’s castle under the care of Kissy Suzuki.

As he infiltrates the castle, he witnesses the horrors of the Garden Of Death for himself.

“Bond was now on the castle side of the lake. He heard a noise and edged behind a tree. The distant crashing in the shrubbery sounded like a wounded animal, but then, down the path, came staggering a man, or what had once been a man. The brilliant moonlight showed a head swollen to the size of a football, and only small slits remained where the eyes and mouth had been. The man moaned softly as he zigzagged along, and Bond could see that his hands were up to his puffed face and that he was trying to prise apart the swollen skin round his eyes so that he could see out. Every now and then he stopped and let out one word in an agonizing howl to the moon. It was not a howl of fear or of pain, but of dreadful supplication.

Suddenly he stopped.

He seemed to see the lake for the first time. With a terrible cry, and holding out his arms as if to meet a loved one, he made a quick run to the edge and threw himself in. At once there came the swirl of movement Bond had noticed before, but this time it involved a great area of water and there was a wild boiling of the surface round the vaguely threshing body. A mass of small fish were struggling to get at the man, particularly at the naked hands and face, and their six-inch bodies glittered and flashed in the moonlight. Once the man raised his head and let out a single terrible scream, and Bond saw that his face was encrusted with pendent fish as if with silvery locks of hair. Then his head fell back into the lake and he rolled over and over as if trying to rid himself of his attackers. But slowly the black stain spread and spread around him and finally, perhaps because his jugular had been pierced, he lay still, face downwards in the water, and his head jigged slightly with the ceaseless momentum of the attack.”

Incidentyally, you can visit a real garden of death if you ever find yourself in Britain at Alnwick Gardens, the world’s most complete collection of the deadliest plants in the world. The garden is the brainchild of Isobel Jane Percy, the 12th Duchess of Northumberland, whose motivation for creating the collection sounds a little like a Bond villain:

“I wondered why so many gardens around the world focused on the healing power of plants rather than their ability to kill … I felt that most children I knew would be more interested in hearing how a plant killed, how long it would take you to die if you ate it and how gruesome and painful the death might be.”

Back in Blofeld’s garden, the area is riddled with fumaroles. Bubbling superheated sulfur pools from volcanic activity. This is where Roald Dahl took inspiration from when creating the volcano lair from the movie. Along with some of the “guests” in the garden of death choosing to throw themselves into these pools, Blofeld is tapping the energy from them to power his castle and uses them as a torture device.

Blofeld has also taken to wearing Samurai armor, both to protect him from the plants and animals in the garden of death, but also because he has delusions of grandeur in his castle.

Bond is captured, recognized by Blofeld, and tortured. He breaks free and kills Irma Bunt and Blofeld with his bare hands in a complete rage. Finally, he decides to destroy the castle and the garden by causing the systems in Blofeld’s castle to malfunction, unleashing the power of the fumaroles.

Between his torture, near execution, fight with Blofeld and desperate escape from the crumbling castle Bond is left with a very serious head injury and barely alive. Nursed back to health by Kissy Suzuki, he recovers as an amnesiac with no memory of his former life.

Meanwhile, back in London, M regretfully writes 007’s obituary believing him missing, presumed dead, on the mission to Japan. This was also the basis for the opening act of Skyfall. The obituary is included in the novel in full, and for the first time, we learn of James Bond’s life.

“As your readers will have learned from earlier issues, a senior officer of the Ministry of Defence, Commander James Bond, C.M.G., R.N.V.R., is missing, believed killed, while on an official mission to Japan. It grieves me to have to report that hopes of his survival must now be abandoned. It therefore falls to my lot, as the Head of the Department he served so well, to give some account of this officer and of his outstanding services to his country.

James Bond was born of a Scottish father, Andrew Bond of Glencoe, and a Swiss mother, Monique Delacroix, from the Canton de Vaud. His father being a foreign representative of the Vickers armaments firm, his early education, from which he inherited a first-class command of French and German, was entirely abroad. When he was eleven years of age, both his parents were killed in a climbing accident in the Aiguilles Rouges above Chamonix, and the youth came under the guardianship of an aunt, since deceased, Miss Charmian Bond, and went to live with her at the quaintly-named hamlet of Pett Bottom near Canterbury in Kent. There, in a small cottage hard by the attractive Duck Inn, his aunt, who must have been a most erudite and accomplished lady, completed his education for an English public school, and, at the age of twelve or thereabouts, he passed satisfactorily into Eton, for which College he had been entered at his birth by his father. It must be admitted that his career at Eton was brief and undistinguished and, after only two halves, as a result, it pains me to record, of some alleged trouble with one of the boys’ maids, his aunt was requested to remove him. She managed to obtain his transfer to Fettes, his father’s old school. Here the atmosphere was somewhat Calvinistic, and both academic and athletic standards were rigourous. Nevertheless, though inclined to be solitary by nature, he established some firm friendships among the traditionally famous athletic circles at the school. By the time he left, at the early age of seventeen, he had twice fought for the school as a light-weight and had, in addition, founded the first serious judo class at a British public school. By now it was 1941 and, by claiming an age of nineteen and with the help of an old Vickers colleague of his father, he entered a branch of what was subsequently to become the Ministry of Defence. To serve the confidential nature of his duties, he was accorded the rank of lieutenant in the Special Branch of the R.N.V.R., and it is a measure of the satisfaction his services gave to his superiors that he ended the war with the rank of Commander. It was about this time that the writer became associated with certain aspects of the Ministry’s work, and it was with much gratification that I accepted Commander Bond’s post-war application to continue working for the Ministry in which, at the time of his lamented disappearance, he had risen to the rank of Principal Officer in the Civil Service.

The nature of Commander Bond’s duties with the Ministry, which were, incidentally, recognized by the appointment of C.M.G. in 1954, must remain confidential, nay secret, but his colleagues at the Ministry will allow that he performed them with outstanding bravery and distinction, although occasionally, through an impetuous strain in his nature, with a streak of the foolhardy that brought him in conflict with higher authority. But he possessed what almost amounted to “The Nelson Touch” in moments of the highest emergency, and he somehow contrived to escape more or less unscathed from the many adventurous paths down which his duties led him. The inevitable publicity, particularly in the foreign press, accorded some of these adventures, made him, much against his will, something of a public figure, with the inevitable result that a series of popular books came to be written around him by a personal friend and former colleague of James Bond. If the quality of these books, or their degree of veracity, had been any higher, the author would certainly have been prosecuted under the Official Secrets Act. It is a measure of the disdain in which these fictions are held at the Ministry, that action has not yet — I emphasize the qualification — been taken against the author and publisher of these high-flown and romanticized caricatures of episodes in the career of a outstanding public servant.

It only remains to conclude this brief in memoriam by assuring his friends that Commander Bond’s last mission was one of supreme importance to the State. Although it now appears that, alas, he will not return from it, I have the authority of the highest quarters in the land to confirm that the mission proved to be one hundred per cent successful. It is no exaggeration to pronounce unequivocally that, through the recent valorous efforts of this one man, the Safety of the Realm has received mighty reassurance.

James Bond was briefly married in 1962, to Teresa, only daughter of Marc-Ange Draco, of Marseilles. The marriage ended in tragic circumstances that were reported in the press at the time. There was no issue of the marriage and James Bond leaves, so far as I am aware, no relative living.”

In Japan, Bond a Kissy are lovers and she has kept secret from him any aspect of his former life, preferring him to remain ignorant and amnesiac. Bond has no idea that this life is not real. One day, when reading a newspaper article on Russia, he becomes fixated on  Vladivostock as it triggers something deep in his subconscious, and makes him realize something is wrong.

The novel ends with Bond leaving for Vladivostock to find out why he is so fixated with Russia, as a pregnant Kissy wonders if she should have told Bond she was expecting their child.

So you were expecting a volcano lair, spaceships, and Donald Pleasance. Instead, you got Bond presumed dead, not even knowing he is Bond, en route to Russia having killed his greatest nemesis in pure rage. Well, we did warn you the books were very, very different from the movies!

You Only Live Twice, Or So It Seems

The character of Bond is at his most interesting here. Fleming was growing weary of writing the character and his health was degrading. This was reflected in the latter Bond novels. Here Bond is on a downward spiral as the novel begins. He is late for work, making mistakes, drinking heavily, and gambling. M has had enough and wants to fire him from the service.

After being persuaded to give Bond one final chance to redeem himself with a difficult mission, M sends him to Japan. There Bond’s character changes under the ministrations of Dikko Henderson, an Australian Secret Service agent, Tiger Tanaka, and Kissy Suzuki. As Bond proceeds with his mission, he rediscovers his sense of humor and purpose in life. The theme is one of rebirth, reflected in the title and in Bond’s Haiku that gives us this title.

Blofeld has also changed, as a result of two defeats at the hands of 007. Bond continuation author Raymond Benson refers to this incarnation of Blofeld as mad and egocentric. Tanaka refers to him as

“…a devil who has taken human form…”

Indeed, dwelling in a place of great suffering and attracting lost souls in torment, it is easy to see why Blofeld would appear that way.  In Ian Fleming & James Bond: the cultural politics of 007 Comentale, Watt and Willman note that Blofeld parallels Hitler, Nero and eventually Caligula in his appearances in the Bond series.

The novel also reflects Fleming’s growing frustrations with Britain’s post-war direction, and he has Tanaka accuse Britain of Tanaka accuses Britain of throwing away the empire “with both hands” when discussing Japan’s approach to post-war developments.

The mood of the book overall can be described as dark, claustrophobic, and with a touch of melancholia. This reflected Fleming’s real-life at this stage. One other aspect of reality that influenced the novel was Sean Connery’s portrayal of James Bond on screen.

Fleming had been against the casting of Connery as Bond but came to like him in the role and as a result, he introduced aspects of Connery into the literary Bond including a sense of humor and Scottish ancestors. This was reflected in the character’s obituary when he is presumed dead.

Like much of Bond, this obituary was also reflective of Fleming’s real life, including his expulsion from Eton college. Bond’s mother, Monique Delacroix, was named after two real women in Fleming’s life – Monique Panchaud de Bottomes, a Swiss girl from Vich who Fleming was engaged to in the early 1930s, with Delacroix taken from Fleming’s own mother, whose maiden name was Ste Croix Rose.

Charmian Bond was the aunt who cared for Bond after his parents were killed in a climbing accident. Charmian was the name of Fleming’s cousin who married Richard Fleming, Ian’s brother.

Pett Bottom, the village where Bond grew up in Kent, where his aunt lived, is also the name of a real place. Fleming once stopped there en route from golf at Royal St George’s Golf Club, Sandwich and the name amused him, sticking in his mind.

Fleming was taken around Japan in 1962 by an Australian friend Richard Hughes and a local journalist Tiger Saito. They became Dikko Henderson and Tiger Tanaka, respectively.

It is speculated by Bond scholars that maybe Fleming had intended this to be 007s final adventure, with Tracy’s death avenged and Bond living a quiet, peaceful life in Japan with Kissy and having no memory of his previous identity. Maybe Fleming did flirt with the idea of simply leaving Bond there.

However, he then began work on a follow-up novel, The Man With The Golden Gun. Sadly he would never see that published.

Fleming was a heavy smoker and drinker throughout his adult life, and suffered from heart disease.

In 1961, aged 53, he suffered a heart attack as a result of his heavy tobacco and alcohol usage combined, it is thought, with the stress of the McLory lawsuit over Thunderball. He struggled to recuperate from that first heart attack. While staying at a hotel in Canterbury, Fleming went to the Royal St George’s Golf Club for lunch and later dined at his hotel with friends. He collapsed with another heart attack shortly after the meal.

Fleming died at age of just 56 at Kent and Canterbury Hospital in the early morning of 12 August 1964. His last recorded words were an apology to the ambulance drivers for having inconvenienced them.

We are going out of chronological order for the next edition, for good reason. Fleming Revisited will return with… Octopussy And The Living Daylights.



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Interested in our complete rundown and ranking of all the 007 movies? Check it out here. With No Time To Die the final outing for Daniel Craig, we check out the runners and riders to take over the mantle of 007.