TOKYO — Action icon Shinichi “Sonny” Chiba announced his retirement from action thesping under his Japanese stage name at a press conference in Tokyo on Monday, citing his age, 68, and physical decline. He also said that he intends to teach at his alma mater, Nippon Sport Science University, and launch his own acting school in Japan.
Chiba said he realized he’d reached his limit filming a period drama for pubcaster NHK in July. Required to wear a heavy suit of armor for his role of warlord Itagaki Nobukata, Chiba suffered an asthma attack. “Itagaki died (in the drama) — now I want to bury ‘Shinichi Chiba’ as well,” he told reporters.
Starting next year, Chiba will be a guest instructor at Nippon Sport Science University. Also, next month he will start taking applications for a Japanese branch of his LA-based acting school, Thousand Leaves Hollywood. (The Chinese characters in “Chiba” can be read as “Thousand Leaves.”) Chiba said he intends to expand the school to six cities nationwide, as well as join with Hong Kong action legend Jackie Chan to launch schools for future action stars in Beijing and Shanghai. “I’d like to train many young people and pass on the name ‘Shinichi Chiba’ to one of them,” he said. Chiba also said he would continue to act under his real name. Sadaho Maeda, and his international stage name, Sonny Chiba.
In 1970 Chiba started another school for action thesps, Japan Action Club (JAC), training future international star Hiroyuki Sanada, but withdrew from its management in 1991. He currently runs an acting school, Thousand Leaves Hollywood, out of his LA home.
Born in Fukuoka, Japan in 1939, Chiba made his screen debut in 1959. In the 1970s he rose to global stardom in karate action pics as the Japanese answer to Bruce Lee . Recent pics include “Kill Bill Vol. 1” and “The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift.”