IT'S THE ONE WHERE
An American spaceship is captured by another unidentified spaceship. The Americans thinks the Russians are to blame, the Russians prepare for American retaliation, but the British Secret Service believes the mysterious craft originated from Japan, and thus James Bond is sent to the Land of the Rising Sun to prevent World War III.
Bond gets to play with the mini-helicopter Little Nellie, he's trained as a ninja, at one point he's dressed up to look like a Japanese fisherman, and he dies (again) in the pre-credit sequence. Of course Bond flirts with Moneypenny, the secretary, he nails every broad with a pulse, including an innocent Japanese island girl, a feisty redhead who works for the bad guys and a few other assorted Asian girls.
THE SECRET PLOT TO RULE THE WORLD AWARD GOES TO...
...SPECTRE. Again. No. 1 is back, and so is his cat, but this time we actually get to see his face, and we even learn his name. Shudder! We also get some serious opposition from some very cool Japanese henchmen! Hai!
From the very early moments of You Only Live Twice the mood seems distinctly different from the previous films. A hijacking in space, resulting in an international conflict. The danger of war in the air. Bond is dispatched on an uncharacteristically clear mission, backed by solid intel. There's a definite feeling of modern espionage here. Is this really a Bond film? Even the investigation itself seems much more coherent this time around - Bond follows a lead, it leads to a clue, the clue is examined and a new lead is produced. Wow, almost like a real investigation!
It's also worth noting that we're at the same level of information as Bond, at least for the first hour. That works far better than when we have all the facts and are just waiting for Bond to stumble over them. Even when we learn who's behind the whole plot ahead of Bond, he's already voiced his theories - which of course are correct - so we know he's on the right track. It's a lot easier to root for him that way!
Naturally the film still gets distracted every now and then, it's not completely free of those unnecessary detours. It seems strange, for example, to make the effort of faking Bond's death, only to have him walk around moments later with no disguise, but at least it makes for a colorful opening, even if it steals a lot of screen-time. Later the film grinds to a halt at the most crucial moment to show us Bond's transformation into a Japanese fisherman (there's ninja training and heavy makeup involved). Still, things could be worse.
Bond also seems a little less smug here, which suits him well. Sean Connery plays down the character's natural charm, and I'm wondering if this is a conscious choice, or a sign that he's getting fed up with 007. Either way, and especially in light of the international crisis at the heart of the story, it seems quite fitting for this film.
Overall this adventure just feels bigger. We've got a big important plot, we finally get to meet the ultimate bad guy face to face, we're in a (truly) foreign country, with gorgeous vistas and exotic locations, even the sets are bigger. There's a cool areal action scene with several helicopters, and the final action set-piece is more impressive than anything we've seen before.
All in all, You Only Live Twice is a good place to start if you want to check out some of the earlier Bond films. It's the first one I can actually recommend.