Kill Bill star Sonny Chiba dies aged 82 after catching Covid-19

The Japanese actor rose to stardom in the 1960s and was known for carrying out most of his own stunts. Credit: AP/PA

Legendary Japanese actor Sonny Chiba, who wowed the world with his martial arts skills in more than 100 films, has died aged 82.

Chiba, best known for playing master swordsmith Hattori Hanzo in Kill Bill, passed away in a hospital near Tokyo after contracting Covid-19, his management confirmed.

In a statement, they said the star - known as Shinichi Chiba in Japan - had been treated for the virus at the hospital since August 8. He had not been vaccinated, they added.

Tributes have poured in for father-of-three Chiba, who rose to stardom in Japan in the 1960s and was celebrated for carrying out many of his own impressive stunt scenes.

He portrayed samurai, fighters and police detectives - the anguished so-called “anti-heroes” trying to survive in a violent world.

Chiba's overseas career took off after his 1970s Japanese film, The Street Fighter, rose to popularity in the US.

American director Quentin Tarantino listed the work as among his “grindhouse”, or low-budget kitsch cinema, favourites.

Tarantino later went on to cast Chiba in the role of Hattori Hanzo in the first volume of his critically-acclaimed Kill Bill trilogy in 2003.

Chiba also appeared in the 1991 Hollywood film Aces, directed by John Glen, as well as in Hong Kong movies.

His career also got a boost from the global boom in kung fu films, set off by Chinese legend Bruce Lee - though critics say Chiba tended to exhibit a dirtier, thug-like fighting style than Lee.

Following the news of his death, fans, directors and actors alike today heaped praise on Chiba and mournfully shared some of his most famous movie clips and pictures.

Actor Lewis Tan tweeted: “A true action legend. Your films are eternal and your energy an inspiration. #SonnyChiba #RIP".

Writer and director Ted Geoghegan paid tribute to “the great Sonny Chiba” in an emotional Twitter post, which he signed off with a fist and broken heart emoji.

Tributes poured in for Chiba following the news of his death. Credit: Kyodo News via AP

"A martial arts legend with six black belts who started out in tokusatsu TV, Chiba made over 120 movies for Toei and was Japan's most popular action star for decades. Watch one of his films today," he added.

Born in Fukuoka, southwestern Japan, Chiba studied at Nippon Sport Science University and trained in various martial arts, earning a fourth-degree black belt in karate.

The star 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, who - like their father - are all actors.

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