Martial arts star Sonny Chiba passed away this Thursday in a hospital near Tokyo. According to his management team Astraia, the Japanese actor had been undergoing treatment for Covid-19 from August 8. He was 82 years old.
Born in Fukuoka, Japan, Chiba was a fourth-degree black belt in karate and a student of a number of other martial arts disciplines.
Chiba starred in more than 100 films over a career spanning more than five decades, but is best known in the west for his iconic roles in ‘Kill Bill’ and ‘The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift.’ An established martial arts expert, which he showcased in many of his film projects, Chiba spent the later years of his career behind the scenes as a stunt and fight choreographer.
Chiba began his career in Japan in the 1960s, mostly portraying fighters, detectives, samurai, and anti-heroes. He was known for performing and sometimes choreographing his own stunts. One of the most influential projects from Chiba’s rise to stardom was his film “The Street Fighter,” which broke into the U.S. market and garnered a cult following.
Cinema auteur Quentin Tarantino, who would direct Chiba in the mega-successful Kill Bill: Vol. 1, included The Street Fighter in his list of favorite grindhouse films from the ‘60s and ‘70s.
In 1980, Chiba formed the Japan Action Club, a collective of action film veterans with a mission to develop a new generation of Japanese action stars. One of the group’s most notable alumni is Hiroyuki Sanada, now a major box office draw in Japan who also has some filming experience abroad, featuring in “The Last Samurai” and “Rush Hour 3.”
Chiba leaves behind three children, all of whom are working actors. A wake was planned but later canceled due to pandemic concerns. As of the time of writing, arrangements for his funeral are yet to be determined.
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