Indeed, it is a very sad day for the fans of Shinichi “Sonny” Chiba, a martial arts legend and an amazing actor. Chiba died Thursday at age 82; his management company made the announcement. His friend Ryuji Yamakita, the director and producer of Chiba’s final film, confirmed he died in a hospital in Chiba Prefecture, Japan, following complications from COVID-19.
Chiba had a strong fan base in Japan and the rest of the world. His roles in U.S movies such as “Kill Bill,” “The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift,” and of course the “Street Fighter” put him in a legendary and respectable position in Hollywood. In fact, it was Street Fighter that helped him take off his career globally. Chiba served in the industry for almost 50 years, and he started acting in the 1960s all the way to the 2010s.
The world has lost a legend.
R.I.P. Sonny Chiba
どうもありがとうございました 😢 pic.twitter.com/syh0vj1VlV
— Th3Birdman (@Th3birdman15) August 20, 2021
While Chiba might not have appeared in many Hollywood movies, his contribution to Japanese cinema is commendable. Through the years, he has appeared in so many Japanese movies that it’s practically hard to keep track. His films always showcased his expert-level martial arts skills.
Moving on, Chiba did not let his martial arts talent go to waste, and instead, later in his career, he even started choreographing fight scenes.
Chiba was born in Sadaho Maeda, Fukuoka, Japan, on the 22nd of January, 1939. His interest in martial arts began when he joined the Nippon Sports Science University in 1957. This was perhaps the first stepping stone to the legend he had to become.
He trained under karate master Masutatsu, aka “Mas” Oyama, and in the year 1965, Chiba earned his first black belt. Later on, he played the role of Oyama in trilogy films which include, “Champion of Death,” “Karate Bearfighter,” and “Karate for Life.”
In 1984 Chiba was honoured with a 4th -degree black belt. Along with martial arts, he also received black belts in Ninjutsu, Shorinji Kempo, Judo, Kendo, and Goju-Ryu karate.
Shedding light on his film and television career, Chiba started with the screen name Shinichi Chiba. His first on-screen appearances included local superhero shows “Seven Color Mask.” It’s no surprise that he replaced the lead actor with his immensely skillful fighting in the series. Another movie that he did was “Messenger of Allah,” in which he played the lead role again.
Speaking of his film career, they were usually crime thrillers and fight movies. Chiba often tagged along with the famous Japanese director Kinji Fukasaku and the sci-fi motion picture “Invasion of the Neptune Men” in 1961.
— Lewis Tan (@TheLewisTan) August 19, 2021
Chiba’s first martial arts movie was “Karate Kiba,” in 1973, and just after that, in 1974, his film “The Street Fighter” was released in the U.S by New Line Cinema. Due to extreme violence, the film was rated X.
In “Kill Bill: Volume 1,” Chiba played the character of a sushi bar owner, who was a retired swordsman and built the blade for the main character, which was played by Una Thurman’s lead actor. Even in “The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift,” Chiba was given a lesser screen time but an important role as he played Kamata, the Yakuza leader and the uncle of the main villain, Takashi (Brian Tee).
Some of the other movies played by Chiba include “The Bullet Train,” “Champion of Death,” “The Storm Riders,” “Karate Warriors,” “Doberman Cop,” “Shogun’s Samurai,” and“G.I. Samurai.”
Chiba was cast for a role in the movie “Outbreak Z,” along with Jesse Ventura and Wesley Snipes. Unfortunately, we have lost one of the most legendary and iconic martial arts performers as Chiba did not survive Covid complications. “Bond of Justice: Kizuna” is his last and final movie.
However, he did leave his legacy behind so that more and more people could benefit from it, as he set up the Japan Action Club in 1980. The sole aim for this was to train the younger generations of upcoming actors.
The club definitely proved to be a good move as it created actors such as Hiroyuki Sanada, who has a great name in Hollywood and is considered Hollywood’s most desired Japanese actor. He got roles in quite popular Hollywood movies such as “The Last Samurai” and “Rush Hour 3.”
Chiba is survived by his three children, all of whom are actors, namely Juri Manase, Mackenyu Arata, and Gordon Maeda.