7. You Only Live Twice - Bond Is Japanese Now
Anyone hoping for a sensitive portrayal of Japanese culture in a Bond film probably understood more about Japanese culture than they did about Bond films. The series' previous record with Asian characters is dubious to say the least. Dr No is essentially a variation of the Fu Manchu archetype, an inscrutable Chinese schemer with a (metal) finger in many (radioactive) pies, while Oddjob says nothing and enjoys having gold bars thrown at his chest (thankfully there are no scenes of him eating a cat, which Ian Fleming assumed was the Korean national dish). So it's all the more surprising that You Only Live Twice actually manages to be relatively restrained in its depiction of Japanese society, even finding time for a lengthy and almost dialogue free Shinto wedding sequence. This curiously moving scene is only hampered by the presence of Sean Connery in a Beatles wig and fake eyelids. I did choose the phrase 'relatively restrained' deliberately- this is the Bond movie where 007 has an operation to become more Japanese. Bond's assignment requires him to investigate a suspected rocket site located close to a Japanese fishing community. Rather than send in a Japanese, someone who speaks the language and can blend into a crowd, the secret service determines to pass off 007 as one of them. Luckily, Bond's disguise goes a bit further than chanting 'me so solly' anytime he passes a genuine Japanese person- it also involves 'extensive' plastic surgery. That Beatles wig, those fake eyelids, some spray tan and, er, that's it- Bond is as Japanese as Mr Yunioshi. This operation sequence is a very soft version of yellowface- the practice of white actors playing stereotyped Asian characters- teetering over into cringe territory because the most significant part of the transformation are the eyes. The history of Asian racial stereotyping is a history of people making jokes about slanting or 'slitty' eyes, and for the Bond creative team to home in on that attribute goes some way towards undoing their portrayal of a modern, metropolitan Japan. With all that said, the most awkward thing is how completely unconvincing the disguise is. Bond still towers over even the most strapping Japanese men, retains his Scots burr and looks ridiculous in the kind of bolo hat that only the fishermen of the island and enemies of Larry David wear. With eminent good sense, but zero regard for story logic, the disguise disappears completely a few scenes later.