Shinichi “Sonny” Chiba seemed like he knew the way to crack a skull. In his 1974 international breakout movie, the road Fighter, Chiba plays a mercenary who relentlessly smashes goons’ faces, breaks their bones, and punches them so hard they spit up in visceral gushes. A cult figure within us, Chiba found wider popularity after appearing in such films because of the Kill Bill series and therefore the Fast and therefore the Furious: Tokyo Drift.
Chiba died Thursday at age 82, his management company announced. His friend Ryuji Yamakita, the director and producer of Chiba’s final film, confirmed he died during a hospital in Chiba Prefecture, Japan, following complications from COVID-19.
Sonny Chiba was a prolific actor in Japanese film and television, working closely with the famed production company Toei. His fame broadened with the international release of the road Fighter, a bloody trudge through the Japanese underground that upon its American release was billed as having the “first X-rated fight scenes in screen history.” The movie lived up to its press hype, with Sonny Chiba brute-forcing his way through nameless bad guys. (Be warned that within the clip below, Chiba punches out an opponent’s teeth).
Perhaps Chiba’s biggest booster within us was writer and director Tarantino, who wrote regarding to him into 1993’s True Romance, cribbed the famed Ezekiel 25:17 speech in Pulp Fiction from the opening of a Chiba movie, and eventually cast him because the retired swordsmith Hattori Hanzo within the Kill Bill movies.
Outside of his onscreen work, Chiba formed the Japan Action Club, where he trained aspiring martial arts, actors and stunt workers. This was inspired by a love of yank action movies, he told the gang through a translator at GalaxyCon Raleigh in 2019. He said that folks misunderstood the “action” within the group’s name to ask “action movies.” Instead, he said, he meant it to ask filmmaking more broadly—as in lights, camera, action.