‘Kill Bill’ martial arts star Sonny Chiba dies of complications from Covid-19



Chiba, a martial arts movie star in her native Japan, made a name for herself punching breathtaking blows and stabbing fictitious enemies in the throat with just her fingers. His on-screen relentlessness has inspired action writers like director Quentin Tarantino and actor Keanu Reeves to emulate his style in their own works – and thrilled viewers when they weren’t covering their eyes.

Chiba, a ferociously talented martial artist whose international fame grew with films like “The Street Fighter” and “Kill Bill”, died this week from complications from Covid-19, his representative Timothy Beal confirmed to CNN. Chiba was 82 years old.

Chiba, born Sadaho Maeda, got his start in martial arts training with Mas Oyama, considered a karate master. And subdue it, Chiba did – he earned multiple Black Belts during his time under Oyama’s wing, according to Variety. He did not show his martial arts skills on screen until 1973, in the film “Karate Kiba”.

Comparisons with famous Hong Kong American martial artist Bruce Lee were inevitable. But Chiba’s distinct fighting style was unlike anything Lee had attempted. Chiba went ballistic on his enemies and appeared to use more force to land his punches, a method that softened the choreographed nature of his cinematic spars. And his characters have almost always killed his opponents.

Sonny Chiba as Hattori Hanzo in

All similarities to Lee were crushed with the release in 1974 of the shockingly violent international hit “The Street Fighter”, in which Chiba, as martial arts mercenary Takuma Tsurugi, dons a man strong enough to make him lose several teeth and crush another man’s one. skull. The protagonists of Chiba were ruthless anti-heroes who were ready to shed blood, a character trait that informs many contemporary action films.

“For me, the nicest part to play is the bad guy,” he said in a 2007 interview with British TV personality Jonathan Ross. He gushed out of this particularly brutal scene that cut to an x-ray of a skull after Chiba’s character smashed, it was his idea, a workaround to show the damage in one hit without attempting to hit him. – even, he said.

Chiba’s style has earned him famous fans like Tarantino, who first referred to the great martial artist in the 1993 film, “True Romance,” for which he wrote the screenplay. Chiba would later appear in the director’s two “Kill Bill” films.

In “True Romance,” Christian Slater’s Clarence Worley calls Chiba “bar none, the greatest actor working in martial arts movies today”.

He was nicer than his creepy movie roles suggested

Chiba has had a prolific career in film and television, with over 200 credits on IMDb. Western audiences may have seen him in 2006 in “The Fast and Furious: Tokyo Drift”, in which he played a ruthless boss Yakuza, but most of the movies and series he made in the latter part of his career were outings in Japan.

Chiba had another film in the works before his death, Beal, his representative, said in an email to CNN. Despite what his conflicting roles would have the public believe, Chiba was a “humble, caring and friendly man,” Beal said.

Quentin Tarantino (left) sang the praises of Chiba in his films.
This was evident in a 2015 interview with Keanu Reeves. The action star of “The Matrix” and “John Wick” told Japanese media that Chiba is one of the greatest actors in martial arts cinema. Chiba then surprised Reeves during the interview and praised “John Wick”, visibly delighting Reeves.

“The character and the action… you brought it together,” Reeves told him. “There was always heart in [Chiba’s characters.]”

Chiba joked that he could learn a thing or two from Reeves, even though Chiba arguably created the plan artists like Reeves have been trying to follow for decades. Chiba, as Takuma Tsurugi, slit his throat with his bare hands before Reeves, as John Wick, could creatively kill opponents with a well-placed pencil. He never made it seem easy – the faces of his characters betrayed the pain he felt as often as he made his enemies suffer – but the ambivalent tone he set in his performances inspired much. action movies that viewers love today.


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