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Martial arts legend Sonny Chiba dies from COVID

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The Japanese actor, known in the US for his collaborations with Quentin Tarantino, was 82.

Quentin Tarantino shares a light moment with Japanese actor Sonny Chiba during a press conference to promote his new film “Death Proof” in Tokyo. August 2007. 
Sonny Chiba and Quentin Tarantino share a celebratory moment at a press conference for Death Proof in 2007.
Photo credit should read TORU YAMANAKA/AFP via Getty Images

For many Americans, their introduction to Sonny Chiba was through the 1993 movie True Romance. Chiba did not appear in the movie, but it was penned by Chiba fan Quentin Tarantino, and therefore the hero, Clarence, played by Christian Slater, was also a huge fan.

Quentin Tarantino was not content in simply having Chiba mentioned in one film, he later cast the martial arts legend in Kill Bill, Vol. 1 & 2.

The “bar none greatest actor working in martial arts movies today” passed away August 19th due to complications from COVID. He was 82.

Born Sadaho Maeda in Fukuoka, Japan, on January 22, 1939, he studied under Masutatsu “Mas” Oyama, earning a first-degree black belt under the karate master. He would later go on to portray Oyama three times in the late 1970’s, in the films “Champion of Death,” “Karate Bearfighter” and “Karate for Life.”

In 1984, Chiba received his fourth-degree black belt, and also held black belts in ninjutsu, shorinji kempo, judo, kendo and goju-ryu karate.

Chiba made his name for the brutality of his fight choreography. Famously, it was his idea for a smash cut to an x-ray of a skull fracture to illustrate the damage inflicted by a blow. While the actor did find fame in the West, acting in The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift in addition to his collaborations with Tarantino, the vast majority of his over 200 credits came in Japanese productions, spanning 1959-2021. His final film, Bond of Justice: Kizuna will be released October 1.