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Shinichi Chiba (?? ??, Chiba Shin’ichi?) (born January 23, 1939), also known as Sonny Chiba, is a Japanese actor. Chiba was one of the first actors to achieve stardom through his skills in martial arts, initially in Japan and later before an international audience.
Born Sadaho Maeda (?? ??, Maeda Sadaho?) in Fukuoka, Japan, he was the third of six children in the family of a military test pilot. As a boy, he manifested an interest in both theater and gymnastics, and he was serious enough about the latter to earn a place on the Japanese Olympic team in his late teens until he was sidelined by a back injury. While he was a university student, he began studying martial arts with the renowned World Karate Grand Master Masutatsu “Mas” Oyama (who he later played in a trilogy of films), leading to his becoming a first degree black belt.
Sometime around 1960 (the dates are uncertain, because it is possible that he had television appearances to his credit as early as 1959) he was discovered in a talent search (called “New Face”) by the Toei film studio, and he began his screen career soon after as Shinichi Chiba. His acting career began on Television, starring in 2 Tokusatsu superhero shows, first replacing Susumu Wajima as the main character Kotarô Ran/7-Color Mask in 7-Color Mask (Nana-iro kamen) in the second half of the series then starred as Goro Narumu/The Messenger of Allah in The Messenger of Allah (Allah no Shisha). His movie debut and first starring movie role was the 1961 Toku-SciFi movie Invasion of the Neptune Men. Later that year Chiba appeared in the first Kinji Fukasaku film Wandering Detective: Tragedy in Red Valley which marked the beginning of a long series of collaborations for the two. Over the next decade, he was cast primarily in crime thrillers. He also adopted the English name Sonny Chiba, initially because of his association with a Toyota advertising campaign for a car called the Sunny-S.
By 1970, he had started his own training school for aspiring martial arts film actors known as J.A.C (Japan Action Club), and in 1973, in the wake of the international craze for such films started by Bruce Lee, he returned to the screen himself as an actor. Chiba’s breakthrough international hit was The Street Fighter (1974), which established him as the reigning Japanese martial arts actor in international cinema for the next two decades.
His subsequent hits included such pictures as Bullet Train (1975), Karate Warriors (1976), Doberman Cop (1977), and The Assassin (1977). He also occasionally returned to the science fiction genre, in movies such as Message From Space (1978). Chiba was even busier in the 1980s, doing dozens of movies as well as making forays into television, and with roles in such high profile adventures as the popular Hong Kong comic-based Movie: The Storm Riders (1998), starring alongside Ekin Cheng, the then Prince Of Pop-Culture of Hong Kong, and the Hong Kong Heavenly Pop Prince Aaron Kwok. His fame in Japan remained unabated into the 1990s.