Sonny Chiba, Legendary Action Star, Dies at 82
Covid-19 has claimed one of the legends of the film world. Sonny Chiba, one of the biggest action stars in history thanks to his run in Japanese martial arts and samurai films, has died. He was 82 years old. According to Yahoo! News, Chiba was hospitalized on August 8 because of pneumonia brought on by the coronavirus. “He was in a state of continuing oxygen inhalation,” the translation of the article reads, “but he died without recovering.”
Born in Fukuoka, Chiba was a talented athlete as a teenager who loved films. After an injury squashed his dreams of becoming an Olympic athlete, he began studying martial arts. His first acting role, at the age of 19, was in the tokusatsu series Seven Color Mask in 1960.
Chiba began working regularly in television before moving into film, where he appeared in a string of highly successful action movies out of Japan. His biggest international hits include The Street Fighter series, which were brought to America by New Line Cinemas, and became one of the fledging studio’s earliest hits.
Chiba first martial arts movie, The Bodyguard (also known as Karate Kiba), opens with a quotation that may sound familiar to Quentin Tarantino fans...
Adapting that quote to the famous speech from Pulp Fiction was just one of many homages to Chiba’s work from Tarantino’s career. The characters watch Sonny Chiba movies in True Romance. Then, in 2003, Tarantino cast Chiba himself as Hattori Hanzo, the legendary sword maker, in his ode to Japanese cinema, Kill Bill. American audiences who are unfamiliar with Chiba’s glory days in exploitation cinema probably know him best from this role.
Chiba’s death is a huge loss for fans of action films and Japanese cinema. If you’ve never seen any of his work outside of Kill Bill, several Chiba movies — including all three films in The Street Fighter series — are streaming on Tubi.