Saturday, August 21, 2021

Godspeed Sonny Chiba

Sonny Chiba, the actor and martial artist who starred in such films as The Street Fighter (1974), Goglo 13: Assignment Kowloon (1977), and Samurai Reincarnation (1981), died on August 19 2021 at the age of 82. The cause was complications from COVID-19.

Sonny Chiba was born January 22 1939 in Fukoka,  Fukuoka Prefecture, Japan. His father was a pilot in the Imperial Japanese Army Air Service. In high school Sonny Chiba participated in artistic gymnastics, track and field, baseball, and volleyball. He was also an avid movie buff, and watched such Westerns as Shane (1953) and High Noon (1954).  In 1957 he began attending the Nippon Sport Science University. Until his career was derailed by a back injury, Sonny Chiba was a serious contender for the Japanese Olympics team. While still attending university, Mr. Chiba began studying martial arts with  Kyokushin Karate master Masutatsu "Mas" Oyama.

Sonny Chiba was discovered in a talent search conducted by Toei Company. Toei gave him the stage name Chiba Shin'ichi. He began his career in 1959 in the tokusatu TV series Nana-iro kamen. In 1960 he appeared in the TV series Arâ no shisha. In the Sixties he appeared on such Japanese TV shows as JNR Inspector No. 36 and Jûdô itchokusen. He made his film debut in 1961 in Keishichô monogatari: Fuzai shômei. In the Sixties he appeared in a variety of movies, from action films to science fiction. They included such films as Fūraibō tantei: akai tani no sangek (1961 Drifting Detective: Tragedy in the Red Valley), Uchû Kaisokusen (1961 Invasion of the Neptune Men),  Kamikaze yarō: Mahiru no kettō (1966 Kamikaze Man: Duel at Noon), Ōgon Batto (1966), Soshiki bôryoku  (1967), and Yakuza deka (1970).

In the Seventies, The Street Fighter (1974) brought Sonny Chiba an international audience. In the United States, the film was rated X by the MPAA Ratings Board for its extreme violence. In the U.S. he was billed as "Sonny Chiba," which would be the name he would use for most non-Japanese projects from that time forward. The Street Fighter proved successful enough to be followed by two sequels, Return of the Street Fighter (1974) and The Street Fighter's Last Revenge (1974), as well as spin-off projects such as Sister Street Fighter (1974). In addition to the Street Fighter films, Sonny Chiba also appeared in such movies as Karate Kiba (1973), The Executioner (1974), The Bullet Train (1975), Champion of Death (1975), Golgo 13: Assignment Kowloon (1977), Shogun's Samurai (1978), Message from Space (1978), and Shogun's Ninja (1980).  He starred on the TV series The Bodyguard, The Gorilla Seven, The Yagyu Conspiracy, and Shadow Warriors, and appeared on such shows as Robot Detective and Crossroads.

the Eighties Sonny Chiba starred in the cult film Samurai Reincarnation (1981), as well as such movies as Fall Guy (1982), Ninja Wars (1982), Legend of the Eight Samurai (1983), and Shogun's Shadow (1989). He starred on the television shows Shadow Warriors II, Shadow Warriors IIIShadow Warriors IV, and Shadow Warriors: The End of an Era.

In the Nineties Sonny Chiba appeared in such films as Aces: Iron Eagle III (1992), The Triple Cross (1992), Immortal Combat (1994), The Storm Riders (1998), and Born to Be King (2000). On television he starred in the shows Tokugawa Buraichō and  Terakoya Yume Shinan. In the Naughts he played Hattori Hanzō in Kill Bill Volume I (2003) and Kill Bill Volume II (2004). He also appeared in such  movies as Deadly Outlaw: Rekka (2002), Battle Royale II: Requiem (2003), Explosive City (2004), The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift (2006), and Master of Thunder (2006). He starred on the TV shows Fūrin Kazan. In the Teens he appeared in such movies as Sushi Girl (2012), Take a Chance (2015), and April Fools (2015). His final film is Bond of Justice: Kizuna, currently in post-production.

Sonny Chiba is one of the most famous martial arts stars of all time, and there can be no doubt why. The style of fighting portrayed in his movies was a sharp contrast to previous martial arts on film, much more brutal. What further established Sonny Chiba as a star was that he also happened to be a very good actor. While in the United States he may be best known for such crime films as The Street Fighter, he acted in genres ranging from science fiction to  jidaigeki. Indeed, he portrayed Yagyū Jūbei Mitsuyoshi multiple times, as well as such other historical figures as  Miyamoto Musashi and even his mentor Mas Oyama. Regardless of genre, he always gave a good performance.

While Sonny Chiba played bad guys often and even his heroes could be merciless, in reality he was as far removed from his screen persona as one could get.  His agent, Timothy Beal, said of Mr. Chiba, "He was a great friend and an awesome client. Such a humble, caring and friendly man. I will surely miss him." Sonny Chiba was a true legend who changed cinema forever. His influence is still being felt to this day.

Thursday, August 19, 2021

Alex Cord Passes On

Alex Cord, who starred on the TV series Airwolf and appeared frequently on television, died on August 9 2021 at the age of 88.

Alex Cord was born Alexander Viespi Jr. on May 3 1933 in Floral Park, New York. He was twelve when he caught polio. The family moved to Wyoming where he took up horseback riding. He went to New York University in New York City. He studied acting at the American Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford, Connecticut. 

Alex Cord made his television debut in an episode of Laramie in 1961. In the Sixties he guest starred on such shows as Ben Casey, Frontier Circus, Cain's Hundred, Naked City, East Side/West Side, Route 66, Branded, and Bob Hope Presents The Chrysler Theatre. He appeared in the movies The Chapman Report  (1962), Synanon (1965)  Stagecoach (19660, The Brotherhood (1968), Stiletto (1969), and The Last Grenade (1970).

In the Seventies Alex Cord starred in the short-lived series W.E.B. and the unsold pilot Genesis II. He appeared on such TV shows as Night Gallery, Gunsmoke, Mission: Impossible, Insight, The F.B.I., Police Story, Police Woman, The Six Million Dollar Man, and The Love Boat. He appeared in such movies as Chosen Survivors (1974), Inn of the Damned (1977), and Grayeagle (1977). 

In the Eighties Mr. Cord starred on the short lived show Cassie & Co. and Airwolf. He guest starred on such shows as Fantasy Island; Hotel; Murder, She Wrote; The Law and Harry McGraw; Simon & Simon; War of the Worlds; and Jake and the Fatman

In the Nineties Alex Cord guest starred on the shows High Sierra Search and Rescue; Kung Fu: The Legend Continues; Walker, Texas Ranger; and High Tide. He appeared in such movies as Roots of Evil (1992), CIA Code Name: Alexa (1992), and The Naked Truth (19920. His last appearance on screen was in 2009 in the movie Fire from Below.

Alex Cord was a particularly talented actor who played a variety of roles. He was the Ringo Kid in the 1966 remake of Stagecoach, Dylan Hunt in Gene Roddenberry's failed pilot Genesis II, and Archangel on Airwolf. He could play heroes as easily as he could play villains, and was as comfortable in Westerns as he was science fiction or action movies.

Tuesday, August 17, 2021

A Rough Past Few Days

I feel as if I have to explain why I haven't made any posts in the past few days. The simple fact is that they have not been easy. Last Thursday, August 11 2021, my brother had a massive heart attack. They put in a stent and he spent a few days in hospital. He is doing fine, although he will have to have another stent put in next Tuesday. As if that wasn't enough, my cat Malcolm has been sick. We got him some hairball medication and he seems better today. I have been worried about him. I also had two friends die recently, both from cancer. One was 82, the other was in her thirties. Suffice it to say, it has not been a particularly easy time since last Thursday.

August has never been a good month for me. It was the month that my best friend from college, Ron, died. It is also the month during which my dearest Vanessa Marquez died. It is a month I usually dread. Regardless, I do hope to get back to making posts regularly later in the week.