Shinichi “Sonny” Chiba, a martial arts master and a Japanese actor who played legendary sword maker Hattori Hanzo in “Kill Bill,” has died at age 82, according to Japan’s Oricon News.
According to Oricon, Chiba died Thursday in Chiba Prefecture Kimitsu hospital from pneumonia caused by COVID-19. He had been hospitalized since August 8.
Sonny Chiba’s was also confirmed to TheWrap by his manager Timothy Beal, who says that Chiba would have next starred in a film prior to the pandemic called “Outbreak Z” that would have starred Jesse Ventura and Wesley Snipes.
“He was a Great friend and an Awesome client. Such a humble, caring and friendly man,” Beal told TheWrap. “I will surely miss him.”
Chiba, a skilled martial artist, starred in dozens of films and television shows since the early ’60s. Among his popular films were the “Yakuza Cop” and “Street Fighter” series in the ’70s, which launched his international career when New Line released the film and gave it an X-rating for its extreme violence.
But he became popular with modern, Western audiences after his portrayal of Hanzo in Quentin Tarantino’s “Kill Bill.” He played a sushi restaurant owner who was actually a legendary sword maker who crafted a katana for Uma Thurman’s Bride after she asks for “Japanese steel” in her quest for revenge.
Sonny Chiba, who was born Sadaho Maeda and took the name Shinichi in his acting career, trained under karate master Masutatsu “Mas” Oyama, someone whom he would later portray in a trilogy of films, those being “Champion of Death,” “Karate Bearfighter” and “Karate for Life,” Chiba reached the rank of a first-degree black belt in 1965, and he also held black belts in Judo, Kendo, Ninjutsu and other fields.
Chiba would also appear in “The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift” as a Yakuza boss, and some of his other film credits include “The Bullet Train,” “Champion of Death” and “The Storm Riders.”