Sonny Chiba is a martial arts film legend. In his illustrious career, he has appeared in over 125 films and television shows in Japan and in Hollywood, and has produced a
number of films as well. In 1970, he started his own training school for aspiring martial arts film stars.
Sonny was a pivotal figure in the 1970s explosion of martial arts cinema. His groundbreaking role was that of lethal “fists for hire” troubleshooter, Takuma (Terry) Tsurugi, in the phenomenally popular and ultra-violent “The Streetfighter” series of action films. Chiba starred in all four films in the series, which has endured popularity for over 40 years.
Born in Fukuoka, Japan in 1939, Chiba was interested in both theatre and gymnastics and a youth. As a college student at Nippon Taiiku University, Chiba trained extensively for the 1964 Japanese Olympic Gymnastics Team, but a hip injury from a part-time construction work cost him his gymnastics career. It was then that he decided to devote most of his time and energy into martial arts, training under the renowned World Karate Grand Master Mas Oyama, receiving his first degree judo black belt. He later portrayed Mas Oyama in the martial arts biopic “Kenka karate kyokushinken” (Champion of Death, 1975).
Chiba firmly established himself as a key anti-hero of Asian martial arts cinema who said little, and used his fists to sort out his troubles. Outside of Japan, the “Street Fighter” series of films has achieved enduring popularity, and the films’ style heavily influenced a youthful indie filmmaker named Quentin Tarantino. Tarantino has used strong references and imagery from the “Street Fighter” movies in several of his films including True Romance (1993) and Pulp Fiction (1995). And when Tarantino came around to casting his mammoth Kill Bill: Vol. 1 (2003)
Crossing Hollow Films Oyama Film Productions
project, he was awed to have Chiba accept the key role of the hot headed, and sometimes humorous, Okinawan sword maker “Hattori Hanzo.
Chiba has won numerous acting awards in Japan for his dramatic film roles. He is the founder of the Japanese Action Club (JAC), a group of martial artist/actors who train together in promoting realistic fighting techniques in Japanese movies and television shows.
Personal Quote “An actor’s body should be full of emotions, whether it is happiness or sorrow, pain or joy, enraged or elated. You have to express yourself with your whole body. Japanese actors don’t normally do this. What I’m doing as an action star is what every actor should be doing. Action is drama. If we cannot make the audience laugh, smile or cry with us, we are not actors. That may be idealistic — but it’s true.