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'True Action Legend' Who Wowed Tarantino Dead at 82

'Kill Bill' star Sonny Chiba starred in more than 100 films
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Aug 20, 2021 7:04 AM CDT
Kill Bill Star Sonny Chiba Dead at 82
In this June 1998 photo, Japanese actor Sonny Chiba is seen in Kanazawa, west of Tokyo.   (Kyodo News via AP)

(Newser) – Japanese actor Sonny Chiba, who wowed the world with his martial arts skills in more than 100 films, including Kill Bill, has died. He was 82. Chiba, known in Japan as Shinichi Chiba, died late Thursday in a hospital near Tokyo, where he'd been treated for COVID-19 since Aug. 8, his management office said in a statement Friday. It noted he hadn't been vaccinated, per the AP.

  • In the beginning: Born in Fukuoka, Chiba studied at Nippon Sport Science University and trained in various martials arts, earning a fourth-degree black belt in karate. Chiba rose to stardom in Japan in the 1960s, portraying samurai fighters and police detectives, the anguished so-called anti-heroes trying to survive in a violent world. He did many of the stunt scenes himself.
  • Onto Tarantino's radar: His overseas career took off after his 1970s Japanese film, The Street Fighter, proved popular in the US. American director Quentin Tarantino listed that movie as among his "grindhouse," or low-budget kitsch cinema, favorites. Tarantino cast Chiba in the role of Hattori Hanzo, a master swordsmith, in Kill Bill.
  • A career in Hollywood and HK: Chiba appeared in the 1992 Hollywood film Aces: Iron Eagle III, directed by John Glen, as well as in Hong Kong movies. Chiba's career also got a boost from the global boom in kung fu films, set off by Chinese legend Bruce Lee, although critics say Chiba tended to exhibit a dirtier, more thuglike fighting style than Lee.
  • A mentor: In 1980, Chiba set up Japan Action Club to develop a younger generation of actors, including protege Hiroyuki Sanada, who's among Hollywood's most coveted Japanese actors, landing roles in The Last Samurai and Rush Hour 3.
  • Reaction to his death: "A true action legend. Your films are eternal and your energy an inspiration," American actor Lewis Tan said on Twitter. New York-based writer and director Ted Geoghegan called him "the great Sonny Chiba." "Watch one of his films today,” Geoghegan tweeted, followed by images of a fist and a broken heart. Other fans mournfully filled Twitter threads with clips of his movies and photos.
  • On a personal note: Chiba is survived by his three children, Juri Manase, Mackenyu Arata, and Gordon Maeda, all actors. A wake was canceled as a pandemic measure, and funeral arrangements were still undecided, his office said.
(Read more Kill Bill stories.)

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