KIMITSU, Chiba Prefecture (CelebrityAccess) — Sonny Chiba, the Japanese martial artist and actor who appeared in American films such as “Kill Bill” and “Fast & Furious: Tokyo Drift” has died. He was 82.
His passing from complications of COVID-19 was first reported by Variety, who received confirmation from Chiba’s agent.
Born Sadaho Maeda, Chiba took his stage name from Chiba Prefecture, where he spent most of his young life.
Chiba attended Nippon Sport Science University and was a contender for Japan’s Olympic gymnastics team before he was sidelined by injury.
While a university student, he also studied martial arts under the noted Kyokushin karate instructor Masutatsu “Mas” Oyama and later earned his fourth degree black belt in the martial art.
In 1960, he was discovered in a talent competition and began his acting career on the small screen, appearing in two different Japanese superhero television shows.
He made his big screen debut in 1961 when he appeared in lead role of the campy Toei science fiction film Invasion of the Neptune Men.
That same year, he also appeared in Drifting Detective: Tragedy in the Red Valley, the first film by the noted Japanese director Kinji Fukasaku, beginning a long relationship between the two creatives.
His other collaborations with Fukasaku include Virus, Samurai Reincarnation, Battles Without Honor and Humanity: Deadly Fight in Hiroshima, and Legend of the Eight Samurai.
Chiba also started working as a stunt director and fight coordinator and continued prolific output in Japanese film and television.
While many of his martial arts films attained cult status in the west, his stature with western mainstream audiences got a shot in the arm in 1993 when director Quentin Tarantino referenced Chiba’s popular Street Fighter film series in Tarantino’s 1993 movie True Romance.
Tarantino later cast Chiba as the retired swordsmith Hattori Hanzo in several memorable scenes in his hit 2003 movie Kill Bill.
Chiba divorced his first wife, actress Yōko Nogiwa, with whom he has a daughter, Juri Manase, who is also an actress. He has two sons from his second marriage to Tamami Chiba.
Their children Mackenyu Arata, and Gordon are actors as well.