Sonny Chiba, 'Kill Bill' Actor And Martial Arts Legend, Is Dead At 82

Japanese actor and martial arts legend Sadaho Maeda, also known by his formal stage name of Shinichi Chiba and more commonly referred to and credited as Sonny Chiba, has sadly passed away at the age of 82 due to complications stemming from Covid.

Variety confirmed the death of the Kill Bill and The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift actor, who enjoyed a venerated and widely-celebrated career in movies and television, carving out a distinct space for himself among American audiences after first making a name for himself in numerous Japanese productions spanning several different genres: action, horror, and crime among them. The proud owner of six black belts, Chiba holds the honor as one of the first figures to trailblaze a path to movie fame through his proficiency in martial arts.

Born in Fukuoka, Japan in 1939, Chiba's adolescent years were marked by an active and athletic lifestyle that would eventually lead to his passion in studying martial arts as a university student. In fact, he paid homage to his legendary karate master Mas Oyama by eventually portraying him in a trilogy of films in the 1970s.

His big break came in the realm of television, when he took over as the lead for a Japanese superhero show called Seven Color Mask and subsequently made his movie debut in 1961 with Invasion of the Neptune Men. His true breakout role came in 1974's The Street Fighter (currently available on Tubi), which caught the eye of international viewers after being dubbed in English and receiving a rare X-rating for violence.

International Stardom

Of course, Western audiences will be familiar with Chiba predominantly through his work in Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill movies. Cast as Hattori Hanzo, the sushi chef (and retired swordsman) plays a small but integral role in providing the pivotal weapon for Uma Thurman's character, The Bride. He also appeared in an early installment of the nascent Fast & Furious franchise, playing the Yakuza boss villain of Tokyo Drift.

Sonny Chiba helped revolutionize the entire landscape of fight choreography, specializing in a style and energy that never once made him appear as if he were pulling his punches or going through the motions of rehearsing complicated moves. With a thriving (and award-winning) career in acting, Chiba also balanced his work as a fight, stunt, and action choreographer to put his distinctive and unmistakable mark in countless productions.

All told, Chiba's prolific career spanned the decades, from the 1960s through recent years. He will surely be missed, though genre fans will always remember his invaluable contributions to the art form.