Japanese actor and martial arts great Sonny Chiba has died at the age of 82 from complications related to Covid.
Chiba was a star in Japan and was best known to Western audiences for his memorable role as the swordsmith in Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill.
He enjoyed an on-screen career spanning five decades, which also included the 1970s Street Fighter trilogy and 2006’s The Fast and The Furious: Tokyo Drift.
His agent Timothy Beal said he was “a humble, caring and friendly man”.
Beal told the AFP news agency it was “such tragic news”, adding: “He was a great friend and an awesome client.”
Paying tribute online, Mortal Kombat actor Lewis Tan wrote: “A true action legend. Your films are eternal and your energy an inspiration.”
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which is responsible for the Oscars, also said he was a “legend” who “blended toughness with depth”.
In 50 years on screen, Shinichi “Sonny” Chiba grew from actor to fight choreographer to legend. A black belt in six martial arts, he blended toughness with depth in films like “The Street Fighter,” “Kill Bill Vol. 1” and “The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift”. He will be missed. pic.twitter.com/bmRzebbNlI
— The Academy (@TheAcademy) August 20, 2021
Chiba studied martial arts throughout the 1960s, excelling in karate. Following in the footsteps of Bruce Lee, he then landed roles in Japanese films and TV series, including with the influential Toei studio.
He made a name for himself outside his own country in Street Fighter as the ruthless martial arts mercenary and anti-hero Takuma Tsurugi.
“For me, the most enjoyable role to play is the bad guy,” he told Jonathan Ross in a TV interview in 2007.
The crossover-hit film series caught the eye of a young Tarantino, and almost 30 years later the director would cast him to play Hattori Hanzo in 2003’s Kill Bill – Volume 1.
The popular character was a samurai-turned-sushi chef who came out of retirement to forge a sword for the Bride, played by Uma Thurman.
He reprised the role in Kill Bill: Vol 2. Chiba also appeared in Kinji Fukasaku’s 2003 film Battle Royale II: Requiem, as well as Justin Lin’s instalment of the Fast and Furious franchise.
The former gymnast had been set due to work on Outbreak Z, an upcoming zombie movie starring Wesley Snipes.