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Sonny Chiba

Quentin Tarantino has described Shinichi Sonny Chiba as "the greatest actor to ever work in martial arts films." References to Chiba's work appear in several earlier Tarantino pictures. The central characters in True Romance, for example, attend a retro double feature of Chiba's signature Streetfighter films of the 1970s. And the sonorous Biblical speeches delivered by Samuel L. Jackson in Pulp Fiction were inspired by the assassin-for-hire character played by Chiba on the Japanese television series Shadow Warriors, a formative influence on the future filmmaker when it was shown with subtitles on LA's International Channel.

Sonny Chiba is one of Japan's best-known and most successful film and television stars. His prolific 40-year career has also earned his a significant international following. He rocketed to international fame in 1975 when a film known in Japan as Sudden Attack: The Killing Fist, was released internationally as The Streetfighter. Chiba made a strong impression in the title role as the ruthless mercenary Terry Surugy. Distributed in the United States by New Line Cinema, The Streetfighter quickly became a drive-in and grindhouse cult classic, one of the first movies ever to be rated X for violence alone.

Born in Fukuoka, Japan, Chiba became interested at an early age in traditional Japanese theater, gymnastics, and traditional kyokushinkai karate, described as one of the harshest forms of an already harsh art. At Nippon Taiiku University he studied under grandmaster Mas Oyama Koncho and was considered a contender for the Japanese Olympic team, until he was sidelined by a back injury him.

Chiba entered the movie business in 1961, the winner of a New Faces contest at Toei Studios. The violent action film The Bodyguard (1970) was his first major hit and set the tone for his future career. He brought an animal ferocity to his fight scenes that eclipsed even Bruce Lee. Until well into the 1980s he specialized in playing amoral technicians of violence in long-running film series such as the Gambler Cop, Golgo 13, Lone Wolf Gambler, and Streetfighter franchises.

Apart from his appearances as the Streetfighter, Sonny Chiba is probably best known in the US for his role as a tough talking space caption in Message From Space (1978), director Kinji Fukasaku's Japanese Star Wars clone.

In recent years Chiba's screen image has mellowed considerably, beginning with his first-ever period samurai role, in Shogun's Ninja, in 1982. Subsequent successes include Dragon Princess, Virus, and Legend of the Eight Samurai. Chiba has starred in more than 125 films at Toei Studios and has won numerous acting awards in Japan for his dramatic film roles. He also starred in several long-running Japanese television series, including Key Hunter, and Juubei Yagyu.

Note: This profile was written in or before 2003.

Sonny Chiba Facts

Birth NameSadao Maeda
BirthdayJanuary 23, 1939 (82)
Height5' 10½" (1m79)  How tall is Sonny Chiba compared to you?

Selected Filmography

The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift
Message From Space
Street Fighter
Wolf Guy
Doberman Cop
Shoguns Ninja
Return Of The Street Fighter
Martial Arts 50 Movie Pack: Black Cobra
Aces: Iron Eagle 3
Sonny Chiba Collection
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