Tuesday, April 9, 2013

SONNY CHIBA'S HEART WILL GO ON: A Look at Chiba-san's Dinner Banquet Celebration

No, your eyes aren't deceiving you; that's me interviewing Sonny Chiba, just before the start of his dinner banquet.

On April 7, the RIHGA Royal Hotel in Waseda, Tokyo, hosted a banquet in celebration of Sonny Chiba's being awarded an honorary degree from his alma mater, Nippon Sport Science University. And, even though his birthday is January 23, it also served as a 74th birthday party for the legendary Toei star (complete with a Marilyn Monroe-esque "Happy Birthday" routine). All in all, it was a celebration of Sonny Chiba, and I think we can all get behind that!

First, I had the distinct honor of interviewing Chiba-san. When he came out for the interview, he shook my hand and told me (in English), "Nice to see you again!" We didn't have a lot of time for questions (understandably so), but Chiba-san was quite energetic during our talk. He gave me a great quote about director Hajime Sato (Terror Beneath the Sea, The Golden Bat) which I can't wait to share!

Greatest of all, however, was seeing the interview reported on Chiba-san's blog after it was over! Seriously, folks, how cool is that?

Sonny Chiba addresses the banquet hall in style.

Many VIPs from Chiba-san's university addressed the audience, sharing their memories of his college years. Some vintage footage of Chiba-san performing gymnastics was shown, and it was amazing to see what a gifted athlete he was. The Street Fighter doesn't give you the whole picture of his abilities!

Interestingly, during this time, Celine Dion's "My Heart Will Go On" from Titanic was played on a constant loop, which inspired the title of this blog post. I found it a little amusing, seeing that Chiba-san's filmography is the very antithesis of that song!

Father and daughter: Sonny Chiba shares the stage with his daughter, actress Juri Manase.

Many movers and shakers from the entertainment industry in Japan were on hand for this event. I met some folks with rather impressive resumes.

In the above photo is Yumi Kinoshita. She became a Sonny Chiba fan with the hit series Key Hunter. She speaks great English, and we got along very well.

Tsuburaya Productions suit actor Kazuya Shimizu was in the house, too, as were a number of Japan Action Club members.

Suffice it to say, Chiba-san was mobbed everywhere he went. Still, he handled it like the pro he is and treated his fans respectfully. He cheerfully posed for pictures and signed autographs.

Would you like to look this good when you're 74?

Toward the end of the evening, I got to chat with Chiba-san's daughter, Juri Manase, who's best known to fans in the U.S. from her role in Tarantino's Kill Bill Vol. 1. She speaks quite good English, and I enjoyed having the chance to speak with her.

All in all, it was a very enjoyable event. I did more networking at this celebration than at any other time since I've been in Japan. I'd like to extend my thanks to Sonny Chiba, Seiji Iwahori, Yumi Kinoshita, and everyone else who helped make this event one for the ages.

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