(born January 23 1939
), also known as Sonny Chiba
, is a Japanese
actor. Chiba was one of the first actors to achieve stardom through his skills in martial arts, initially in Japan and later before an international audience.
Born in Fukuoka
, he was the third of six children in the family of a military test pilot. As a boy, he manifested an interest in both theater and gymnastics, and he was serious enough about the latter to earn a place on the Japanese Olympic team in his late teens until he was sidelined by a back injury. While he was a university student, he began studying martial arts with the renowned World Karate Grand Master Masutatsu "Mas" Oyama
(who he later played in a trilogy of films), leading to his becoming a first degree black belt.
Sometime around 1960 (the dates are uncertain, because it is possible that he had television appearances to his credit as early as 1959) he was discovered in a talent search (called "New Face") by the Toei film studio, and he began his screen career soon after as Shinichi Chiba. His acting career began on Television, starring in 2 Tokusatsu
superhero shows, first replacing Susumu Wajima as the main character Kotarô Ran/7-Color Mask in 7-Color Mask
) in the second half of the series then starred as Gorō Narumu/The Messenger of Allah in The Messenger of Allah
(Allah no Shisha
). His movie debut and first starring movie role was the Toku-SciFi movie Invasion of the Neptune Men
. Over the next decade, he was cast primarily in crime thrillers. He also adopted the English name Sonny Chiba, initially because of his association with a Toyota advertising campaign for a car called the Sunny-S.
By 1970, he had started his own training school for aspiring martial arts film actors known as J.A.C (Japan Action Club), and in 1973, in the wake of the international craze for such films started by Bruce Lee, he returned to the screen himself as an actor. Chiba's breakthrough international hit was The Street Fighter (1974), which established him as the reigning Japanese martial arts actor in international cinema for the next two decades.
His subsequent hits included such pictures as Bullet Train (1975), Karate Warriors (1976), Doberman Cop (1977), and The Assassin (1977). He also occasionally returned to the science fiction genre, in movies such as Message From Space (1978). Chiba was even busier in the 1980s, doing dozens of movies as well as making forays into television, and with roles in such high profile adventures as the popular Hong Kong comic-based Movie: The Storm Riders (1998), starring alongside Ekin Cheng, the then Prince Of Pop-Culture of Hong Kong, and the Hong Kong Heavenly Pop Prince Aaron Kwok. His fame in Japan remained unabated into the 1990s.
In his '50s, the actor resumed working under the name Shinichi Chiba when he served as a choreographer of martial arts sequences. At the dawn of the 21st century, Chiba was as busy as ever in feature films and also starring in his own series in Japan. Roles in Takashi Miike's Deadly Outlaw: Rekka and directors Kenta and Kinji Fukasaku's Battle Royale II effectively bridged the gap between modern day and yesteryear cinematic cult legends, Chiba's enduring onscreen career received a fitting tribute when he appeared in a key role as Hattori Hanzo in director Quentin Tarantino's bloody revenge epic Kill Bill in 2003.
Chiba has starred in more than 125 films for Toei Studios and has won numerous awards in Japan for his acting. In November 2007, he announced the retirement of the stage name Shinichi Chiba and will now be known (in Japan) as as an actor and as a director.
He currently lives in Yokohama
, is divorced from his first wife, Yoko Nogiwa
. They had a daughter, actress Juri Manase
. He is remarried with 2 new sons; child actor J.J. Jr. Mackenyu (前田真剣佑 Maeda Makkenyū) born on November 16, 1996 and the second one 1998.
His younger brother, Jirō Yabuki
,a.k.a. Jiro Chiba, was also an actor, and now lives with his family in rural Japan.
Chiba in popular culture
Christian Slater's character Clarence Worley in True Romance
is a big Sonny Chiba fan. In an early scene, he watches a Sonny Chiba triple feature. Writer of True Romance Quentin Tarantino
is himself a fan of Sonny Chiba and fittingly worked with Chiba ten years later in Kill Bill
Samuel L. Jackson's character in the movie Pulp Fiction recites a creed partly based on Ezekiel 25:17, beginning, "The path of the righteous man is beset on all sides by the inequities (sic) of the selfish and the tyranny of evil men," and ending, "...and you will know my name is the Lord when I lay my vengeance upon thee." This creed was originally used as the opening scroll in the Sonny Chiba movie, Karate Kiba (English title: The Bodyguard), substituting the words, "...and they shall know that I am Chiba the Bodyguard...," in the above passage
In the introduction sequence to the video game The Revenge of Shinobi, he is shown wielding a sword and shielding against death stars.
Black Belts and Martial Art Milestones
In addition to his acting ability, Chiba also has black belts in the following martial arts: