The eighth Tokyo Intl. Film Festival opens this week with a few noticeable changes from the seventh. First, the fest is back in the city it’s named after – last year, it was held in Kyoto. But the most significant change is that the market, which was held for three years running, is history.

In most other ways, however, the festival itself remains largely unaltered. The highlight of the fest will be, as in past years, the two competitive categories: the International Competition and the Young Cinema Competition, which carries with it the most substantial money prizes on the world fest circuit.

This year’s competitive categories heavily feature Asian and English-lingo films.

British producer/director Hugh Hudson presides over the International Competition jury, while the Young Cinema Competition jury was to be chaired by Polish director Krzysztof Kieslowski. But Kieslowski is recovering from a heart attack and will not be attending the festival. At presstime, fest officials had not yet named a new jury chairman.

As in past years, the cash prizes for the Tokyo Gold, Silver and Bronze awards in the Young Cinema category are about $200,000, $100,000 and $50,000, respectively.

While all winners in the category walk home with diplomas and trophies, the festival’s prestige and the lure of the yen are the real drawing cards for most of the 235 entries from 38 countries. The field has been narrowed down to 12 entries for the actual competition, the only requirements for which are either that the director be born during or after 1960, with three or fewer commercially released films; or that the film be a filmmaker’s directorial debut.

Announced for this category so far are three English-lingo films, two Chinese-lingo, one English-Chinese, one English-Russian, one Persian-lingo and two Japanese films, with two more to be announced. The two biggest-name films in this category are “The Usual Suspects,” directed by Bryan Singer and starring Stephen Baldwin and Gabriel Byrne; and “Cold Blooded,” directed by Wallace Wolodarsky, produced by Michael J. Fox, and starring Jason Priestley, Kimberly Williams and Fox.

Other films include “The White Balloon” (directed by Jafar Panahi), “The Passion of Darkly Noon” (directed by Philip Ridley), “Mute Witness” (the only European-content film announced, directed by American Anthony Waller and starring Alec Guinness) and “Chinese Chocolate” (co-directed by Uan Cui and Qi Chang).

The International Competition, which awards nonmonetary prizes only, attracted 223 entries from 44 countries for a final selection of 11 films to be screened at the festival. This year’s crop includes three in English, one each in English-Japanese, Indonesian, Taiwanese, German and Korean, with three more to be announced.

As in the past, the festival also features several non-competitive categories. The most prominent of these is one for Special Screenings, which includes the fest’s opening and closing films (Mel Gibson’s “Braveheart” and Yasuo Furuhata’s “Kura,” respectively), as well as big-name films from around the world such as “Crimson Tide,” “Le Colonel Chabert,” “Smoke,” “Four Rooms,” “Une Femme Francaise” and “He’s a Woman, She’s a Man.”

The Best of Asian Films section will screen 14 films from the region, and so far includes films in Japanese, Chinese, Persian, Korean, Pilipino, Bengali, Arabic and Magyar. This year’s Nippon Cinema category is focusing solely on the classic “phantom” movies from the 1930s and early ’40s that are rarely seen today. Many of these films were believed lost until prints were recently found. Most notable among them is “Chushingura,” Japan’s first talkie, which was found in a private collection.

Attached to this year’s festival, as in years past, are sponsored events such as t he HDTV Festa ’95 symposium and screenings, the JACCS Card Tokyo Intl. Fantastic Film Festival, t he Kanebo Intl. Women’s Film Week (which this year has categories for women directors, producers, the 50th anniversary of the end of World War II and documentary films), Selected Works of Japanese Film Masters, RAIZO: The 100th Anniversary of Cinema, the Shochiku Film Centennial and the World of Vivien Leigh and “Gone With the Wind.”

The 10-day festival will be held mostly in Shibuya, an area of Tokyo that is noted for being young, hip, chic, expensive and international. Perhaps reflecting recessionary times, the festival has more sponsors than in the past – as opposed to a few, huge sponsors.

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