An American spacecraft called Jupiter 16 is hijacked in orbit and the U.S. blames the Soviet Union, but the spacecraft landed in the Sea of Japan, so that country might be involved. James Bond (Sean Connery) is sent to Tokyo after faking his own death and burial at sea in Hong Kong. Bond attends a sumo match where he is approached by a female Japanese Secret Service agent named Aki (Akiko Wakabayashi) who takes him to meet a British MI-6 agent named Dikko Henderson (Charles Gray), who claims to have answers, but he is killed by a ninja hitman. Bond chases and kills the assassin, then takes his victim’s clothing as a disguise and is driven in the getaway car to Osato Chemicals.
He breaks into the office safe of the president, Mr. Osato, and steals secret documents. He is pursued by guards and rescued by Aki. She runs to a subway station and he follows but falls through a trap door into the office of the head of the Japanese Secret Service, Tiger Tanaka (Tetsuro Tamba, voice dubbed by Robert Rietty). The documents include a photograph of the cargo ship Ning-Po and a note that the tourist who took the photo was eliminated.
Bond returns to Osato Chemicals, masquerading as a buyer, and meets Osato (Teru Shimada). Afterwards, Osato tells his SPECTRE-appointed secretary Helga Brandt (Karin Dor) to kill Bond. Assassins open fire on him and Aki rescues him again. They drive to Kobe, where the Ning-Po is docked, and discover that it was carrying rocket fuel. They are discovered. Aki gets away, but Bond is captured. He wakes up, bound, in Brandt’s cabin on the ship. She interrogates and seduces him. She flies him to Tokyo the next day but sets off a flare on the plane, seals him in his seat, and bails out. He manages to break free and land the plane before it explodes.
He finds out where the Ning-Po unloaded and flies over the place in a miniature autogyro named Little Nellie provided by Q (Desmond Llewelyn). He is attacked by four assault helicopters and defeats them, confirming that a base is somewhere nearby. A Soviet spacecraft is captured in orbit and brought to a base hidden in the volcano by Ernst Stavro Blofeld (Donald Pleasance) of SPECTRE, who has been hired by an unnamed great power to start a Soviet-American war. He brings Osato and Brandt to reprimand them for not killing Bond, dumping Brandt into a pool of piranhas and ordering Osato to kill Bond this time.
Bond trains with Tanaka’s ninjas and is disguised as a six-foot-two Japanese fisherman. There will be a staged marriage to a diving girl. A SPECTRE assassin trying to kill Bond accidentally kills Aki and Bond is married to Tanaka’s agent Kissy Suzuki (Mie Hama, voiced by Nikki van der Zyl). They explore a cave booby-trapped with phosphene gas. The mouth of the volcano is a hatch to the secret rocket base. Bond sends Kissy to alert Tanaka and slips into the base. He frees the captured American astronauts but is spotted by Blofeld, who kills Osato as a demonstration.
The rocket ship called Bird One, disguised as a Soviet spacecraft, closes in on an American space capsule and the U.S. prepares to attack the U.S.S.R. Tanaka’s ninjas arrive and are fired upon. Bond distracts Blofeld and lets in the ninjas. Tanaka saves Bond. Bond fights his way into the control room, tosses Blofeld’s bodyguard Hans (Ronald Rich) to the piranhas, and blows up Bird One. Blofeld activates the base’s self-destruct and escapes. Bond, Kissy, Tanaka, and the ninjas escape and are picked up by Japanese and British forces.
The film was produced by Eon’s Harry Saltzman and Albert Broccoli, and directed by Lewis Gilbert from a script by Roald Dahl, very loosely based on Ian Fleming’s 1964 novel. After this, Sean Connery quit the series, though he returned for one more film by Eon—Diamonds are Forever—and later starred in a non-Eon film Never Say Never Again. The film was well-received in general, but the box-office was saturated with spy-movies by this time and it was not as successful as hoped.
The producers and top filmmakers went to Japan to study film locations. Because they had a chance to watch a ninja demonstration, they stayed and missed their flight home and it crashed shortly after takeoff, killing everyone on board. Roald Dahl, who had worked with Ian Fleming in the British Intelligence Service, pretty much made up all of the script because he found Fleming’s book little more than a travelogue and unsuitable for a movie. Reviewers were less than overwhelmed, though the film’s entertainment value was acknowledged, the scientific details seemed pedestrian or absurd and many felt that Connery was bored. Still, later viewers loved the exotic settings and choreographed ninja-style fights. Donald Pleasance as Blofeld was highly praised.
Donald Pleasance never blinked as Blofeld. His facial-scar makeup was irritating and the white cat peed on him all the time. At one point, frightened by noise, it ran away and hid for days, though it unintentionally appeared on screen in a wide shot, sitting in the rafters. Blofeld was only in the film for ten minutes, but Austin Power’s parody of him as Doctor Evil filled every Powers movie. Miss Moneypenny wears a Women’s Royal Navy Service uniform. The method used to attempt Bond’s assassination in his sleep was actually used against Oda Nobunaga in the Sixteenth Century. It didn’t work then either. Ninety-eight stuntmen stormed the villain’s lair. A scene in the ninja school training camp that involved a ninja swordsman fighting five assailants at once is precisely reproduced in the volcano attack. At, one point, Connery fights a Samoan wrestler called Peter Hanene Maivia—Dwayne Johnson’s grandfather.