THE OTHER SIDE OF THE STREET FIGHTER! Shinichi ‘Sonny’ Chiba Recalls His Japanese Sci-Fi Roles!

Shinichi “Sonny” Chiba in January 2017. Photo © Brett Homenick.

Shinichi “Sonny” Chiba is truly an actor who needs no introduction. This worldwide superstar has appeared in innumerable action films in both Japan and America, including Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill Vol. 1 (2003), Kinji Fukasaku’s The Yagyu Conspiracy (1978), and Shigehiro Ozawa’s The Street Fighter (1974). Mr. Chiba is also internationally recognized for his myriad of science fiction and fantasy films, most of which were produced by Toei Studios. These films include: Invasion of the Neptune Men (1961), Terror Beneath the Sea (1966), The Golden Bat (1966), Message from Space (1978), and Virus (1980), among many others.

On April 7, 2013, the RIHGA Royal Hotel in Waseda, Tokyo, hosted a banquet in celebration of Mr. Chiba’s being awarded an honorary degree from his alma mater, Nippon Sport Science University. Just before the event began, Brett Homenick was granted an interview with Mr. Chiba. Due to Mr. Chiba’s busy schedule, only 15 minutes was allotted for the interview (including translations), so the interview that follows is rather brief. However, we would like to extend our sincerest thanks to Mr. Chiba and Mr. Seiji Iwahori for their assistance in making this interview possible.

Brett Homenick: Thank you very much for joining us.

Sonny Chiba: You are welcome.

BH: My first question is, in 1961, you appeared in Invasion of the Neptune Men (1961). This one was directed by Koji Ota. Do you remember working with Mr. Ota at all?

SC: Oh, yeah. Yes, I remember him very well. He was a wonderful director. Unfortunately, he died very young.

BH: What was he like as a person?

SC: He was cheerful. He could bring out a good performance in the actors.

BH: Let’s move on. Terror Beneath the Sea in 1966, directed by Hajime Sato. Peggy Neal…

SC: I remember her. She was a very nice young lady. She was wonderful. (His way of talking suggests that she is younger than he.)

BH: Did you get a chance to talk with her off-set, and did you socialize with her at all, or was that not done?

SC: During filming, we would have tea and share meals together.

BH: You worked with (director) Hajime Sato also on Terror Beneath the Sea (1966) and The Golden Bat (1966).

SC: He was very energetic. He was like, “Camera! Go! Oh! OK!” Always shouting. Just like Quentin Tarantino. (in English) Quentin Tarantino — the same!

BH: On Message from Space (1978) with Vic Morrow and Philip Casnoff, didn’t you hurt your foot?

SC: That was hard. We went to Hawaii. I was supposed to do some work in Hawaii, but I couldn’t go because of my injury that I suffered during the filming of Message from Space. That is something I always remembered.

BH: Did you get to work directly with Vic Morrow and Philip Casnoff?

SC: Absolutely. I have a good memory of that.

BH: Please talk about those memories.

SC: We often talked together during filming. I was a fan of Vic Morrow. What was that show? Combat! I liked Combat! I had a chance to talk with him.

BH: What are your memories of working with Kinji Fukasaku?

SC: He is the director who is really responsible for my career. I owe him more than anyone. My first film where I had the starring role was directed by him.

BH: You worked with Mr. Fukasaku on Virus (1980), which was produced by Haruki Kadokawa. What do you remember of the many locations that were used? You went to many places.

SC: I went to Canada. Where was that? Calgary? We went to various places. Vancouver, and where was that cold place?

BH: Toronto?

SC: Toronto.

BH: What did you get to do in Canada during the shoot?

SC: The film was supposed to take place in Antarctica. So the locations had to be cold. I was always shivering.

BH: What is your favorite science fiction film that you’ve appeared in?

SC: Well, if asked my preference, the Fukasaku movies were really great.

BH: You would say the Fukasaku movies?

SC: Yes, and Message from Space. That was great. Also, the one adapted from Japanese folklore, Legend of the Eight Samurai (1983). It was similar to Message from Space. That was also great.

BH: What message do you have for your American fans that are reading this?

SC: Currently, there’s wonderful U.S. and Japan project. Do you know the writer Inazo Nitobe?

BH: I don’t.

SC: He wrote Bushido, the Soul of Japan.

BH: Yes!

SC: We completed a script inspired by that book. It will be an American film. Samurai, Indians, blacks, whites — all in one film. The script is done. We want to film in the U.S.  Please spread the word.

BH: Finally, do you remember Bo Svenson? He was in Virus. He says, “Hello.”

SC: Oh, yeah! Big guy! Please tell him, “Hello!”

BH: I certainly will.

SC: Please relay the news about Bushido.

BH: I certainly will. 

SC: Thank you very much


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