Sonny Chiba, R.I.P.

The news today is tragic.  COVID has claimed the life of Sonny Chiba.  Chiba was 82 years old.

Born Sadaho Maeda, he first entered films when he won a talent search that was sponsored by Toei Studios.  The CEO of Toei renamed him Shinichi Chiba.  He started his career largely appearing in crime dramas, playing police and gangsters.  He found international stardom when he started to play roles that took advantage of his mastery of the martial arts, which eventually led to him playing the lead role in 1974’s The Street Fighter.  With the success of that film, he also received a new name when the film’s U.S. distributor, New Line Cinema, advertised the film as starring “Sonny” Chiba.  At the time, The Street Fighter was notorious for being the first film to receive an X-rating due to violence.  Perhaps the MPAA was scandalized by the scene in which audiences were literally shown an x-ray of Chiba smashing open a man’s skull.

A good deal of Sonny Chiba’s appeal came from the fact that he actually was a skilled martial artist.  He wasn’t faking it through camera trickery or fancy editing.  His film fight were exciting because it was obvious that Chiba could do the same things in real life that he was doing in the movies.  He was also a good actor, one who had an imposing screen presence and who was legitimately menacing when he scowled at an opponent.  Before his death, Bruce Lee hoped to make a movie with Sonny Chiba and George Lazenby.  Unfortunately, the day that Chiba arrived in Hong Kong to discuss the film was the same day that Lee died.

Quentin Tarantino was a fan, casting Sonny Chiba in the Kill Bill films.  He was also beloved by the stoners who named a strain of potent cannabis after him.  In Japan, Chiba was a tireless advocate for raising the level of martial arts techniques used in film and television.  He worked up steadily from 1961 onward and he still has one more posthumous film, Bond of Justice: Kizu, set to be released at some point in the future.  He held black belts in 6 different martials arts: Kyokushin, Ninjutsu, Gojo-ryu, Shorinji Kempo, Judo, and Kendo.

Sonny Chiba, R.I.P.

Music Video of the Day: Message of Love by The Pretenders (1981, directed by Mark Robinson)

On August 1st, 1980, MTV premiered. On that day, they played over 160 unique music videos, which is certainly a contrast to today when they play none. The 19th video that MTV played was the video for The Pretenders’s Message of Love. While the video may ultimately be a performance clip, it still captures the unique aesthetic and sense of humor that won and continues to win The Pretenders a legion of loyal fans.


The First Videos Shown on MTV:

  1. Video Killed the Radio Star by the Buggles
  2. You Better Run by Pat Benatar
  3. She Won’t Dance With Me by Rod Stewart
  4. You Better You Bet By The Who
  5. Little Suzi’s On The Up by PH.D
  6. We Don’t Talk Anymore by Cliff Richard
  7. Brass in Pocket by Pretenders
  8. Time Heals by Todd Rundgren
  9. Take It On The Run by REO Speedwagon
  10. Rockin’ in Paradise by Styx
  11. When Things Go Wrong by Robin Lane & The Chartbusters
  12. History Never Repeats by Split Enz
  13. Hold On Loosely by .38 Special
  14. Just Between You And Me by April Wine
  15. Sailing by Rod Stewart
  16. Iron Maiden by Iron Maiden
  17. Keep On Loving You by REO Speedwagon
  18. Better Than Blue by Michael Johnson