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Remembering Japanese Martial Arts Star Sonny Chiba, Who Died Of COVID At 82

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Sonny Chiba was a prolific actor known for his Japanese martial arts movies. His movements were brutal, his facial expressions fearsome as he punched and kicked his way through more than a hundred films. Chiba died this week in a hospital in Japan due to complications from COVID-19. He was 82. NPR's Andrew Limbong has this appreciation.

ANDREW LIMBONG, BYLINE: You know how in the movie "Pulp Fiction," Samuel L. Jackson has that big speech that goes...

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "PULP FICTION")

SAMUEL L JACKSON: (As Jules Winnfield) And I will strike down upon thee with great vengeance and furious...

LIMBONG: Well, writer and director Quentin Tarantino cribbed it from a 1973 Sonny Chiba movie known in the U.S. as "The Bodyguard."

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE BODYGUARD")

SONNY CHIBA: (As Chiba) And they shall know that I am Chiba the bodyguard when I shall lay my vengeance upon them.

LIMBONG: There, Chiba plays a vigilante, who shares his name, pummeling Japan's drug overlords.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE STREET FIGHTER")

CHIBA: (As Takuma Tsurugi, vocalizing).

LIMBONG: Chiba's follow-up movie was 1974's "The Street Fighter," his big international debut and a violent and bloody one at that. Scenes like the one where he punches a guy so hard on the head that the movie cuts to an X-ray shot of a skull cracking and then back to the guy spurting blood earned "The Street Fighter" an X rating in the U.S.

Sonny Chiba was born in 1939. He studied martial arts and started working onscreen for a Japanese kid's TV show. He went on to have a prolific career in action movies and TV shows in Japan, and he got / recognition in the U.S. when Tarantino continued to pay tribute by casting him as swordsmith Hattori Hanzo in the "Kill Bill" movies.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "KILL BILL")

CHIBA: (As Hattori Hanzo) You must have big rats if you need Hattori Hanzo steel.

LIMBONG: For many fans of the genre, Sonny Chiba sits comfortably at the top of a mountain of broken bones. Andrew Limbong, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF HIROLA'S "PERPETUAL LIGHT") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.