The Beatles

Far East Knights [DVD]

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This is an interesting if slightly disjointed bootleg DVD. The first seven minutes of its 110-minute running time are comprised of silent newsreel footage of events in Tokyo surrounding the appearance by the Beatles in Japan during 1966, scored to "Got to Get You Into My Life" and "She Said, She Said," followed by a 12-minute press conference at the Tokyo Hilton. The real program begins at just over 19 minutes with film footage of the three live shows that the group performed at the Budakan Hall. These shows were unusual in that, because of the unique concert etiquette in Japan, even among teenagers, the audience was relatively quiet and it was possible for the group (and listeners) to actually hear what they were playing and singing. That seems to have thrown the Beatles, who -- for the first time in several years -- were cognizant of actually being heard on stage. The first show's version of "She's a Woman" comes off in an interesting manner -- with their instruments turned way up, John Lennon's rhythm guitar crunches away the way that George Martin never would have allowed in the studio, and George Harrison seems to throw something extra into his solo. They clearly enjoyed being in this situation, their harmony singing on "If I Needed Someone" actually coming through off the stage (the fact that they could hear it was extraordinary as well) -- even Ringo's drums are well represented. The second show presents the instruments turned down slightly and the harmony singing still more careful, while the third show is downright strange; the group seems to be in great spirits, but their singing is way, way off key, and the playing seems sloppy compared with the two earlier performances. One would love to know what was going on with the band behind the scenes between the performances. The transfer of the shows is from what looks like either a laserdisc source or good quality 16mm; there's some loss of detail and smeariness in the image in the wide and medium shots, but the color is decent and the sound is better, though it needs some pumping up in volume. The disc opens with a menu frame, though without a full menu of chapters. Additionally, the distribution of chapter markers is confusing and a little bit irregular, but the disc is sufficiently navigable to make it enjoyable, and as a concert document, the first two shows in particular are of intrinsic interest to Beatles fans.