Sonny Chiba, the Japanese actor and martial artist known internationally for appearing in the Kill Bill films and The Fast and the Furious, died of Covid complications, his agent confirmed to Deadline. He was 82.
“He was a great friend and an awesome client. Such a humble, caring and friendly man. I will surely miss him,” said the actor’s agent Timothy Beal.
“Sonny Chiba was not just a client, but a dear friend of mine, and we mourn his passing and our prayers are with his children and family,” added his manager Keya Morgan. “Sonny Chiba was the last of the true samurais, and a martial arts legend unsurpassed by any other in Japanese history. In the 1960s and 70s he was to Japan what Bruce Lee was to China. His unique talents, charisma and mastery of the martial arts will live on for eternity.”
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Chiba was a prolific actor in Japanese film and TV, racking up more than 125 credits for the famed Toei studios, and was also a noted stunt choreographer. In his later career, he attracted attention internationally by playing the sushi chef and retired samurai Hattori Hanzo in Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill: Volume 1 and Volume 2. Tarantino was a noted fan of Chiba; in his screenplay for True Romance, Christian Slater’s character is a fan of the actor.
After being talent spotted by the famed Toei film studio in the 1960s, Chiba (born Sadaho Maeda) starred in a variety of TV series before appearing in breakthrough film The Street Fighter, which was an international hit and led to New Line Cinema founder Robert Shaye dubbing the actor ‘Sonny’.
He then appeared in a swathe of martial arts movies through the 1970s, 80s and 90s, acting and coordinating stunts, as well as on occasion directing.
Chiba would go on to act in Takashi Miike’s Deadly Outlaw: Rekka, Battle Royale II and The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift.
Here is a reminder of his skills, from an English language trailer for his 1974 breakthrough, The Street Fighter, which helpfully added X-rays as blows landed to help audiences understand the damage inflicted by Chiba’s lightning quick fists and feet:
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