Sonny Chiba, a Japanese action star known for his ultra-violent martial arts films, was elevated to a whole new level of cinematic trend in 2003 when one of his superfans, the director Quentin Tarantino, landed him a part in “Kill Bill: Vol. 1”, passed away on Wednesday. He was 82.
His manager and friend, Timothy Beal, said the cause was Covid-19. Oricon, the Japanese news service, said he died in a hospital in Kimitsu, Japan.
mr. Chiba, who was trained in karate and other martial arts, began appearing on Japanese television in his early twenties. He was soon making films as well, amassing more than 50 TV and film credits in Japan before the late 1960s. In the 1970s, with martial arts films enjoying wide popularity thanks to American-born Chinese star Bruce Lee, Mr. Chiba is widely known in Japan and abroad, especially for “The Street Fighter” (1974) and its sequel.
“The Street Fighter,” in which his character battled gangsters, was so violent that when it was released in the United States, it was the first film to receive an X rating for violence alone.
“If nothing else,” wrote AH Weiler in a short review in NewsMadura in 1975, when the film was set to play in New York, “this Japanese-made, English-dubbed import illustrates that its senseless violence made it X-rated. deserves what it is labeled with.” In 1996, when a DVD of the film was released, The Los Angeles Times said it was “presented complete and uncut in all its dazzling, testicle-tearing, skull-crushing glory.”
“The Street Fighter” and other Chiba movies impressed Mr. Tarantino. In the tribute-filled “Kill Bill, Vol. 1′, he cast Mr. Chiba as the swordmaker Hattori Hanzo, who equips the vengeful character of Uma Thurman with her weapon. AO Scott, who reviewed the film in NewsMadura, got the reference, but wasn’t charmed by it.
“Look, Mr. Tarantino seems to be saying, Sonny Chiba is in my movie,” he wrote. “How cool is that? Way too cool? Not cool enough? Like I said, it depends. The movie nerd jokes are sometimes funny and sometimes annoying.”
In any case, Mr. Tarantino Mr. Chiba returned the following year for “Kill Bill: Vol. 2”, and he enjoyed a late revival of his career.
He was a Yakuza boss in “The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift” in 2006 and a sushi chef in the noir thriller “Sushi Girl” in 2012, among other roles. Mr. Beal said that before the pandemic, Mr. Chiba was lining up for a role in a zombie movie called “Outbreak Z”.
Mr. Chiba, who also traded as Shinichi Chiba, was born Sadaho Maeda on January 23, 1939 in Fukuoka, Japan. His acting career got a boost when he was signed by the Japanese Toei studio in the early 1960s.
mr. Chiba has made numerous films, mainly samurai dramas, with Japanese director Kinji Fukasaku, who gave him some of his earliest roles. He came to distance himself from the violent ‘Street Fighter’ movies — “That kind of performance isn’t the one I’m particularly proud of as an actor,” he told The Times in 2003 — but he took a kinder look at his work with Mr. Fukasaku.
“Mr. Fukasaku was very sensitive to violence,” said Mr. Chiba. “His constant question was, ‘What is violence? What is authority? What is power?’ In the end, he denied violence and always sided with the weak.”
Martial arts, Mr. Chiba said, wasn’t all that different from acting.
“Martial arts are part of the drama – it’s performance,” he said, “It’s a way of expressing emotions.”
Information about the survivors of Mr. Chiba was not immediately available.