Sonny Chiba, Martial Arts Legend and Japanese Actor, Passes at 82

Shin'ichi "Sonny" Chiba, the legendary Japanese martial arts actor, passed at the age of 82 due to COVID complications. A career spanning seven decades, he made his debut in 1959 in the Japanese television series Nana-iro kamen. The actor continued his work across film and TV, becoming a crossover success to American audiences. Born Sadaho Maeda in Fukuoka, Japan, in 1939, he started training martial arts at the Nippon Sports Science University in 1957, learning under karate master Masutatus "Mas" Oyama. He earned a first-degree black belt in 1965.

Sonny Chiba, Martial Arts Legend and Japanese Actor, Passes at 82
Image courtesy of Paramount Pictures

While continuing to hone his martial arts, earning black belts in ninjitsu, shorinji kempo, judo, kendo, and goju-ryu karate, Chiba also took his talents to the screen with his memorable turn with his first martial arts film in 1973's Karate Kiba and as Oyama in a trilogy of films in 1975's Karate Bullfighter and Karate Bear Fighter and 1977's Karate for Life. His first major crossover success came in 1974's The Street Fighter that garnered a rare X-rating for its violence.

Sonny Chiba, Martial Arts Legend and Japanese Actor, Passes at 82
Actor SONNY CHIBA at the Los Angeles premiere of his new movie Kill Bill. Sept 29, 2003. Editorial credit: Featureflash Photo Agency /

Other notable early work for Chiba in the 1960s was a series of Japanese superhero shows like Seven Color Mask and Messenger of Allah. His first film roles were a series of crime thrillers by Japanese director Kinji Fukasaku, who ended up as more a frequent collaborator throughout his career. Chiba was also in the sci-fi film Invasion of the Neptune Men (1961). With 209 credits under his belt, Chiba gained a new generation of fans with Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill (2003/2004) as retired swordsman Hattori Hanzo and The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift (2007) as Uncle Kamata. The actor's final project is the crime thriller Bond of Justice: Kizuna, which is slated for release on October 1.


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About Tom Chang

I'm a follower of pop culture from gaming, comics, sci-fi, fantasy, film, and TV for over 30 years. I grew up reading magazines like Starlog, Mad, and Fangoria. As a writer for over 10 years, Star Wars was the first sci-fi franchise I fell in love with. I'm a nerd-of-all-trades.
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