The Big Picture
- Mackenyu, son of legendary martial artist Sonny Chiba, is making a name for himself as a busy star in Japanese entertainment.
- Mackenyu has already proved his acting skills and action prowess in various live-action adaptations, including Knights of the Zodiac and One Piece.
- Sonny Chiba’s influence reached Hollywood, with Quentin Tarantino being a big fan and referencing Chiba’s work in his movies like Kill Bill and Pulp Fiction.
The world of One Piece is filled with fun and weird characters, but none of them are as cool as swordsman Roronoa Zoro. He’s already great in the manga and the anime, wielding three katanas simultaneously, and actor Mackenyu manages to make him even cooler in the Netflix live-action series. He has a lot of experience in adapting anime characters into live-action and is already establishing himself as one of the busiest stars in Japanese entertainment, following in the footsteps of his father; Mackenyu is the son of legendary martial artist Sonny Chiba, one of Japan’s greatest action stars of the 1970s. If the name doesn’t ring a bell, his work and legacy probably will.
Chiba is often regarded as the Japanese equivalent of Bruce Lee due to the fact that they were both martial artists turned actors, but Chiba had the time to follow different paths and experiment more in his career. He became famous for his partnership with Toei Studios, which resulted in 125 movies, his long-lasting relationship with director Kinji Fukasaku, and, later, left a more enduring mark on Hollywood, too.
In a seafaring world, a young pirate captain sets out with his crew to attain the title of Pirate King, and to discover the mythical treasure known as ‘One Piece.’
- Release Date
- August 31, 2023
- Iñaki Godoy , Mackenyu , Emily Rudd , McKinley Belcher III , Jacob Gibson , Taz Skylar
Mackenyu Is on His Way to Becoming an Icon Like His Father
We know someone means business when they are famous for having just one name, and Mackenyu is one of those examples. Of course, he goes by full names sometimes, too — his artistic name Mackenyu Arata, or his family name Mackenyu Maeda. He’s practically inescapable in the Japanese entertainment industry, with One Piece being only the latest in a long line of live-action adaptations that includes a Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure movie, two Fullmetal Alchemist movies, and three Samurai X films.
As if it weren’t enough, his first protagonist role came in the recent Netflix movie Knights of the Zodiac, where he plays Pegasus Seiya. While the movie may not have been so well-received, it did prove that Mackenyu can hold his own as the lead in a star-studded cast, as well as be a compelling action icon. He proves it once again in One Piece. The role of Zoro isn’t an easy one, especially given the multiple swords he fights with — including one in his mouth. He also performs his own stunts in the Netflix series, which should come as no surprise given that he’s been a proficient martial artist since childhood. And that’s where his father’s legacy comes in.
Sonny Chiba didn’t really start his career as a martial arts actor, taking roles mostly on TV and sci-fi movies like Invasion of the Neptune Men in the early 1960s. The start of his collaboration with Kinji Fukasaku around the same time saw him become more of a thriller actor in the Drifting Detective movie series, with a lot of fighting but not really about martial arts per se. It wouldn’t be until 1973 that he starred in his first proper martial arts movie, Karate Kiba, which would be very relevant for his influence on Hollywood decades down the road — but more on that later.
A year later, Chiba had his big international debut with The Street Fighter (not to be confused with the Street Fighter franchise). It was the first X-rated movie to be distributed in the US because of violence and gore, and Chiba got the “Sonny” in his name thanks to New Line chair Robert Shaye — he was Simichi Chiba before that. He went on to star in more Fukasaku movies, but it was The Street Fighter movies that really made him a Japanese icon overseas because of the violent style of the fights and the gory imagery. Their ultimate impact happened for an audience that wasn’t really used to seeing something like this, and, ultimately, it worked. Meanwhile, violence and gore must surely remind anyone of one of the most famous filmmakers in Hollywood nowadays…
This scene was pulled straight from the anime into the live-action series.
Sonny Chiba Was the Inspiration for Many Quentin Tarantino Works, Including a Famous ‘Pulp Fiction’ Line
It’s no secret to anyone that Quentin Tarantino likes movies. He likes them so much, that he gets references for his own work from the most unusual places (meaning mostly unknown to the U.S. audience). Martial arts have always held a special place in his heart too, with two Kill Bill movies drawing direct inspiration from icons of the genre like Bruce Lee as well as Chiba. While the Bride (Uma Thurman) sports a yellow vest just like the one Lee wears in Game of Death, she wields a sword crafted by Hattori Hanzō, played by Chiba himself. While this is certainly the most celebrated collaboration between Chiba and Tarantino, it’s certainly not the only one. One of the few Tarantino screenplays not to be directed by him, Tony Scott‘s True Romance features pop culture nerd Clarence Worley (Christian Slater) treating himself to a three-feature marathon of Sonny Chiba’s movies on his birthday. This is something that we can clearly envision Tarantino himself doing even now.
In fact, Tarantino is such a fan of Chiba’s that Pulp Fiction even features a whole monologue from Karate Kiba. When Jules Winnfield (Samuel L. Jackson) and Vincent Vega (John Travolta) are in Brett’s (Frank Whaley) apartment to get the suitcase for Marsellus Wallace (Ving Rhames), Jules recites the famous Ezekiel 25:17 fake Bible passage. As crazy as it may sound, this whole monologue is taken almost verbatim from the opening of Karate Kiba, with only a few minor adjustments in pronouns and the only major change being the “And you will know My name is the Lord” line, which replaces the original “They shall know that I am Chiba the Bodyguard.” It’s crazy to think that, for a long time, fans just referred to the Bible to search for the original verses and concluded that Tarantino must have fabricated them himself, while it was actually a deep-cut reference to one of his favorite movie stars all along.
Chiba has other Hollywood mentions and cameos, like in The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift, but he eventually retired. It would have been incredible to see him act with his son Mackenyu in a movie, but, unfortunately, he passed away in 2021 due to complications from COVID-19. Still, Mackenyu is doing a great job so far of solidifying himself as Japan’s next great movie star and an icon like his father. He’s already dominated live-action adaptations, and we can’t wait to see what’s next.
One Piece is available to stream on Netflix in the U.S.
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