Shinichi Chiba (千葉 真一 Chiba Shin'ichi) (born 23 January 1939), also known as Sonny Chiba, is a Japanese actor and martial artist. 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 (前田 禎穂 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 Kyokushin karate master Masutatsu "Mas" Oyama (whom he later portrayed in a trilogy of films), leading to his becoming a first-degree black belt on 15 October 1965, later receiving a fourth-degree on 20 January 1984.
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 KotarÃ´ Ran/7-Color Mask in 7-Color Mask (Nana-iro kamen) in the second half of the series then starred as Gorō Narumu/The Messenger of Allah in The Messenger of Allah (Allah no Shisha). His movie debut and first starring movie role was the 1961 science fiction 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.
Chiba has starred in more than 125 films for Toei Studios and has won numerous awards in Japan for his acting. In November 2007, he announced the retirement of the stage name Shinichi Chiba and will now be known (in Japan) as J.J. Sonny Chiba (ＪＪサニー千葉 Justice Japan Sanī Chiba) as an actor and Rindō Wachinaga (和千永倫道 Wachinaga Rindō?) as a director.
Chiba divorced his first wife, actress Yoko Nogiwa with whom he has a daughter, Juri Manase, also an actress. He has two sons from his second marriage; child actor J.J. Jr. Mackenyu (前田真剣佑 Maeda Makkenyū) born on 16 November 1996 and Gordon (郷敦), born in 1998. He currently lives in Yokohama, Japan. His younger brother, Jirō Yabuki (also known as Jiro Chiba), was also an actor.
Sonny Chiba was recently referenced in the TV Show Chuck. In the episode 'Chuck Versus the Other Guy,' Josh Gomez's character Morgan Grimes notices a fake martial arts sequence, and uses his knowledge of Sonny Chiba movies as proof the fisticuffs are exaggerated.