Synopsis: Agent OSS 117 tries to stop a group of terrorists who plan to bomb an unnamed Far East country in this routine spy story. The villains demand money from the United States and threaten to launch missiles armed with atomic bombs unless their terms are met.
eyelights: the sights and sounds of sixties Japan. the solid script.
eyesores: the middling action sequences. the limp finale.
After ‘Furia à Bahia pour OSS 117’, I was very much looking forward to the next installment in the OSS 117 series. It’s not so much that I found the new lead, Frederick Stafford, riveting (although he was excellent at action), it’s simply that the series was finally looking and feeling epic.
And I wanted more.
Of course, it helped to know that 1966’s ‘Atout coeur à Tokyo pour OSS 117’ was co-written by Terence Young, the director who jumpstarted James Bond with ‘Dr. No‘, ‘From Russia with Love‘ and ‘Thunderball‘. With this cook in the kitchen, OSS 117 would surely be a very tasty treat indeed.
(For the record, no one seems to know just how much Young participated in the writing. There is much speculation that he was paid to lend his name to the project, to give it that credible James Bond connection, and that he contributed nothing else. Now, 50 years later, we may never know…)
This time OSS 117 is sent to Japan to track down extortionists who are threatening to blow up U.S. bases. To demonstrate their capabilities, they’ve already obliterated one, and no one can figure out exactly how they did it. But OSS 117 has a hunch, and a contact in Japan.
Unfortunately, upon his arrival, he discovers that Ralston, his contact, has vanished. Smelling a rat, he and a couple of officials interrogate his secretary, Eva, who, it turns out, was being blackmailed into providing information to the enemy. With this lead, OSS 117 is on the case.
What’s notable about ‘Atout coeur à Tokyo pour OSS 117’ is that it came out a year before ‘You Only Live Twice‘ – which also takes place in Japan and echoes some parts of this picture. As per usual, OSS 117’s producers were a few steps ahead of the 007 franchise, even as they emulated it.
For instance, those familiar with the Bond film will notice the strangely reminiscent sequence in which OSS 117’s contact first appears to betray him, only to reveal that she’s working for the head of the Japanese secret service – who comes to the agent’s aid. It’s one many mirror moments.
But where this picture stands out is in how it highlights the gorgeous Japanese scenery and culture: for instance, in separate scenes, OSS 117 and Eva have lunch in an open air garden, and they visit a large outdoor marketplace. It felt more immersive, as though the camera loved the sights.
It’s far superior to ‘You Only Live Twice’ on that front; whereas the latter seemed to use the setting more as a novelty, OSS 117 incorporates it into the film (the fact that much of the dialogue is in non- subtitled Japanese, yet remains coherent adds to this impression – they are, after all, in Japan).
Where it stumbles is on the thrills front: whereas ‘YOTL’ overdid it to the degree that it became a sci-fi fantasy, ‘Atout Coeur…’ is more restrained, and is mostly content with OSS 117 connecting the dots and fending off one thug at a time (albeit with a samurai sword, in one scene).
It lacks pizzaz.
The filmmakers gave it the old college try, though: the picture begins right in the middle of a car chase, complete with machine gun fire, and ends on a huge cargo ship that’s been transformed into a villain’s lair – much like the Bond villains of the ’70s would do. But, somehow, it just doesn’t gel.
And, as mentioned previously, Stafford is very good at action; what he lacked in true screen charisma, he made up in realism – he and co-star Marina Vlady even did their own stunt when their characters had to dive off the ship at the end. For that contribution alone, Stafford deserves respect.
Sadly, it’s not enough to prevent ‘Atout coeur à Tokyo pour OSS 117′ from losing steam (it’s interesting to note that Kerwin Mathews’ OSS 117 films also lost steam after an initial installment). It remains a good Eurospy flick, but it doesn’t quite live up to its enormous potential.
Still, it’s supremely more satisfying than Bond’s own foray into the Land of the Rising Sun.
Date of viewing: February 28, 2016