I've been the same way.
Growing up, the only asian dudes to see on American TV were not super awesome. It became clear to me at an early age if we wanted to see badass asian guys we had to rent movies from Asia. Lots of Kungfu flicks.
Sonny Chiba was the first Japanese guy I'd ever seen that I thought - that guy is fucking awesome. He became my hero. I wanted to be Sonny Chiba. I mean I'd seen Bruce Lee and The Deadly Venoms and all those cats, but I'm Japanese. I wanted some one Japanese. I hadn't seen the really good heroic Mifune performances yet, so Chiba became my guy. And I was content for him to be my secret dude, that I would show to only a select group of folks I felt close to. "Hey we're going to watch this movie called Street Fighter, this guy is important." If they passed that it was on to Samurai Reincarnation.
Kill Bill came out and I remember taking my girlfriend at the time, and telling her how excited I was that Tarantino was doing this ode to all the movies I watched as a kid. She loved the movies. I remember the moment Sonny Chiba came up on the screen and my heart swelled. There was this diffused light that made him look like a fucking angel, and looking back he's maybe the first(only?) male character in the whole movie that's genuinely nice to Beatrix Kiddo. Part of me was scared that it would just a be pleasant cameo and no one would remember he was even in it.
But he stole the show. Just magnetic and charming as ever, with just enough edge that you know he probably was cable of throwing down in his younger days.
After the movie my girlfriend brought him up and was like "that guy was one of the best parts of the movie, I wanted more of him." I thought "well good news: I got tapes."
We've been married for 15 years.
My little brother texted me when the news broke that he'd passed away. And I felt a pretty big hole in my chest. Some people you wish you could tell how goddamn important their work was to your life, and he was one of them. David Bowie was another for me. Jack Nicholson another. When he goes I'll be a mess. I remember being in highschool and my little sister who was 4 or 5 at the time was OBSESSED with Street Fighter. I totally let her watch it with me all the time. And we'd play this game where we'd do a big standoff and she'd do that crazy breathing and bring her hands over her face like Chiba would do. Then she'd come running at me for the kill.
Anyway, I'm rambling at this point.
The point is, I've got really great memories of my loved ones and several of them involve this man in someway, and I just wanted to share.