TOPArt & CultureEntertainmentTW Pop Culture Update: Sonny Chiba Dies, the Live-Action Cowboy Bebop Lives

TW Pop Culture Update: Sonny Chiba Dies, the Live-Action Cowboy Bebop Lives

It’s been a dark month in Japanese entertainment, but there is light at the end of the tunnel

By Cezary Jan Strusiewicz

On August 19, the world said goodbye to Shinichi Chiba, Sonny Chiba, Sadaho Maeda and Rindo Wachinaga. Of course, we are talking about the same person, just one who used various names throughout his acting, directing and martial arts career. Because Chiba lived so large, it actually felt like we lost four or so people. Sadly, he wasn’t the only great who left us in August.

Goodbye to Sonny Chiba

The man whom the world would come to know as Sonny Chiba through such movies as Golgo 13: Assignment Kowloon, Kill Bill, Hunter in the Dark and The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift, was born Sadaho Maeda in Fukuoka. He would later be given the stage name Shinichi Chiba from the head of Toei. That was then Americanized into “Sonny” when his 1974 movie The Street Fighter (not the one you’re thinking of) was released in the West.

He might have used many different names but there was no-one else like Chiba. The man stole the spotlight every movie and show he appeared in with his commanding and fierce personality. It wasn’t really an act since he was a certified badass. Specifically, Chiba was a certified black belt in various forms of karate, judo and kendo. He was a living legend in his own time and will live on forever through his roles and the pop-culture characters he inspired. Chiba was 82 when he died of complications from pneumonia brought on by Covid-19.

And Goodbye to Maki Kaji

Just a few days before Chiba’s death, Japan also lost another legend: Maki Kaji. Maybe his name is not as well-known as Chiba, but his work sure is. Kaji is known as the Godfather of Sudoku. The popular number placing game was known as just “Number Place” in the beginning. But after Kaji started publishing his own versions of the puzzle, he came up with a new name for it. “Sudoku” was shortened from the phrase “Suuji wa dokushin ni kagiru” ( meaning numbers should be single). Kaji sadly passed away on August 10 aged 69 from cancer.

Finally, there is Mary Fujishima, sister of the late Johnny Kitagawa, founder of Johnny’s & Associates, Japan’s biggest talent agency. An honorary president of the company, Fujishima reportedly worked closely with various musicians earning herself the moniker “the matriarch of J-Pop.” She passed away on August 14 aged 93.

Favorable Winds for Kaze Fujii

Whether the Tokyo Olympics were a success or not will be debated for the next decade, but it’s going to be hard to argue in its favor when so many mistakes were made so early on. Chief among them was hiring Keigo Oyamada as the composer of the opening ceremony despite his self-admitted instances of bullying disabled students in the past. Oyamada later tweeted an apology that wasn’t really an apology and eventually stepped down. Which is just an indirect way of saying that he was not fired by the Olympic organizers, who very much wanted him to stay on. The organizers of Fuji Rock weren’t so eager to forgive him and removed Oyamada from the festival’s line-up.

However, as the sun sets on the career of one musician, it rises for another. The September edition of GQ magazine has chosen young musicians from respective markets who are “shaping the zeitgeist and defining the sounds of tomorrow.” Ignoring the corporate word salad there, the magazine showcased Kaze Fujii in their Japanese edition as “a genre-melding force in J-Pop.”

A newcomer to the Japanese music scene, Fujii’s first studio album only came out in 2020, but he’s quickly become one of the most promising music stars in Japan. This is particularly thanks to the fusion of western and traditional Japanese elements in his art. We wish him many more successes in his career.

The Live-Action Cowboy Bebop Show Looks Amazing

American remakes of anime have about the same success rate as a drunk chainsaw juggling. So, when it was announced that Netflix was making a live-action show based on Cowboy Bebop, the cult anime about space bounty hunters, the general response was the sound of fans sharpening their pitchforks. But in late August, promotional photos for the show were released and they looked… great. How is that possible?

These aren’t actors playing dress-up. John Cho seems to be Spike Spiegel incarnate in these pictures, Mustafa Shakir IS Jet Black and Daniella Pineda IS Faye Valentine. Also, there is a corgi playing Ein the genius dog, which is what we really wanted to see. So, the show looks right but we will have to wait until November 19 to see if it lives up to the legacy of one of the greatest anime ever made. No pressure.


Catch up on previous pop culture news:

Shiori Ito Wins Twitter Lawsuit and Kamen Rider Stirs Conversation About Race

Japanese Celebrities Open Up About Mental Health

The Porn-Filled Saga of the “Don Juan” Murder