Chiba, known in Japan as Shinichi Chiba, died late Thursday in a hospital near Tokyo where he had been treated for COVID-19 since Aug. 8, Tokyo-based Astraia, his management office, said in a statement Friday. It said he had not been vaccinated.
Chiba rose to stardom in Japan in the 1960s, portraying samurai, fighters and police detectives, the anguished so-called “anti-heroes” trying to survive in a violent world. He did many of the stunt scenes himself.
His overseas career took off after his 1970s Japanese film The Street Fighter proved popular in the U.S.
American director Quentin Tarantino listed the work as among his “grindhouse,” or low-budget kitsch cinema, favourites.
Tarantino cast Chiba in the role of Hattori Hanzo, a master swordsmith in Kill Bill.
Chiba appeared in the 1991 Hollywood film Aces, directed by John Glen, as well as in Hong Kong movies.
Chiba’s career also got a boost from the global boom in kung fu films, set off by Chinese legend Bruce Lee, although critics say Chiba tended to exhibit a dirtier, thug-like fighting style than Lee.
“A true action legend. Your films are eternal and your energy an inspiration. #SonnyChiba #RIP,” American actor Lewis Tan said on Twitter.
New York-based writer and director Ted Geoghegan called him “the great Sonny Chiba.”
“Watch one of his films today,” Geoghegan tweeted, followed by images of a fist and a broken heart.
Other fans mournfully filled Twitter threads with clips of his movies and photos.
Born in Fukuoka, southwestern Japan, Chiba studied at Nippon Sport Science University trained in various martials arts, earning a fourth-degree black belt in karate.
Chiba set up Japan Action Club in 1980, to develop a younger generation of actors, including protege Hiroyuki Sanada, who is among Hollywood’s most coveted Japanese actors, landing roles in The Last Samurai and Rush Hour 3.
Chiba is survived by his three children, Juri Manase, Mackenyu Arata and Gordon Maeda, all actors. A wake was cancelled as a pandemic measure, and funeral arrangements were still undecided, his office said.