Sonny Chiba is a Japanese actor, one of the first actors to become popular because of his martial arts skills.
Born on January 23, 1939, he was a member of the Japanese gymnastics Olympic team during his childhood, until he was sidelined by an injury. He was also interested in the theater. He studied martial arts with renowned karate expert Masutatsu Oyama while attending university.
His first screen appearances were in the early 1960s, when he was discovered in a talent search by the Japanese film studio Toei. Known as Shinichi Chiba, he first acted on the television program Tokusatsu, a superhero show. His film debut was in the science fiction film Invasion of the Neptune Men, which premiered in 1961.
In 1970, he started his own training school for martial arts film actions, the Japan Action Club. In 1973, he returned to the silver screen, in light of demand for martial arts films due to the popularity of artists such as Bruce Lee. In 1974, Chiba appeared in his breakout international hit, The Street Fighter, where he plays a violent martial arts master. The success of the film established him as the reigning Japanese martial arts actor for the next two decades.
Chiba became a choreographer of martial arts sequences in his 50s; his work appeared in many Japanese action films. He also continued to appear in films, and in his own television series in Japan. In 2003, director Quentin Tarantino paid tribute to Chiba’s influences by casting him as Hattori Hanzo in the 2003 thriller Kill Bill. He also appeared in the 2006 film The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift.
In November 2007, Chiba announced his retirement of the Shinichi Chiba name, instead preferring to be called J.J. Sonny Chiba in his acting roles, and as Rindo Wachinaga in his directing stints.