In this global pandemic it's perhaps expected to have to write more obituaries than usual, but we've lost some amazing talent in recent months, and unfortunately we lost yet another of the greats today. Sonny Chiba was a prolific actor and martial artist known to fans of the Fast and Furious franchise and Quentin Tarantino movies, but he had a career that spanned 60 years and included not just modern blockbusters but a host of great Japanese martial arts films. Fans have lost one of the greats as Chiba died today from complications brought on by COVID-19 at the age of 82.
The accomplished actor reportedly contracted the novel coronavirus at the end of July. As a result of the virus, he apparently developed pneumonia and it was the pneumonia for which he was admitted to the hospital on August 8. However, he was unable to recover from the pneumonia and he eventually passed away.
Shinichi “Sonny” Chiba appeared in films as diverse as Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill movies as well as The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift. But he starred in his first martial arts film, Karate Kiba, back in 1973. And Chiba's martial arts capabilities were not movie magic. According to Variety, he earned his first degree black belt in 1965 and his fourth degree in 1984. He even starred in a trilogy of films where he played martial arts master Masutatsu “Mas” Oyama, the same man who originally trained him.
While western audiences might not know Sonny Chiba well unless they're followers of martial arts movies, one person who certainly knew who Sonny Chiba was, was film nerd Quentin Tarantino. He cast Sonny Chiba in the role of Hattori Hanzo in the two volume Kill Bill films. Hanzo is a swordsmith who gives up his trade to open a sushi restaurant, until Uma Thurman's The Bride comes calling. Her target Bill is Hanzo's former student, and because he sees Bill as dishonorable, he agrees to make his greatest sword ever so that she might dispatch him.
While Sonny Chiba may have been in his 80s and played an ex-warrior in Kill Bill, he never retired from acting. He continued to act professionally from his first TV credit in 1959 right up until the present day. Chiba has one final film, the Japanese-made Bond of Justice: Kizuna which is currently expected to be released in October.
Fans of martial arts movies especially lost a great talent today, though Sonny Chiba has over 200 acting credits to his name, and so there are a lot of his movies out there, though many of them may be difficult to track down. Still, maybe throw on a great Sonny Chiba martial arts movie today to celebrate this amazing talent. Our thoughts are with his family on this difficult day.
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