Anderson, Joseph L, and Donald Richie. "The Talkies, Interior: 1931-1939 (cont.)." The Japanese Film: Art and Industry. 1959.
Expanded ed. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1982. 90-125
Anderson and Richie divide their book into two parts: the "background", which focuses on both the artistic and industrial development of Japanese film over time, and the "foreground", which examines the films themselves. In the chapter cited, the authors examine how the advent of sound resulted in the commercial expansion of Japanese film as well as major innovations in film technique and changes in Japanese film content. Much of this chapter focuses on the evolution of shomin-geki during the 1930s. Shomin-geki was a new genre, emphasizing the importance of realism and focusing on the working class. Anderson and Richie note that few films challenge the changes taking place in Japan during this time (specifically, the call for a return to feudal values, particularly those of war and conquest), Sisters of the Gion is one of the few that challenges the path taken by Japan's leaders. They point out the strong tension between tradition (represented by Umekichi) and modernity (represented by Omocha) that persists throughout the film yet point out that the ending of the film still leaves question as to the best path for both girls. While Umekichi is too encumbered by her aquiescence to tradition, Omocha's modernity does not allow her to triumph.
In essence, Richie and Anderson extend the clash between values to the political stage. They ascribe an impartiality to the film, claiming that Mizoguchi's realism forces the spectator to make a choice between values. Following their analysis, we would expect the film to maintain an unbiased view of the sisters' situation, offering a challenge to the socioeconomic conditions surrounding the film while not offering a solution. Yet the film does take a clear viewpoint. While the ending leaves both sisters condemned, it is only Umekichi who has truly lost the ability to pursue her goals. While Omocha may be in the hospital due to violating Kimura's expectations (which are defined by his traditional view of the role of a Japanese geisha), she still has the potential to recover from this temporary obstacle and return to the wealthy Kudo. On the political level, Omocha's accident would represent the temporary delay caused by the reimposition of traditional values. Yet if Japan recovers quickly from this, it would still be able to be successful internationally.
While the book doesn’t have as much relevant information to Ikiru as other books I read, it does present some new information concerning the film in its own right, not on its aesthetic principles or themes. The book is able to ground the film in relation to other Japanese films of its time, which no other book does, which is valuable in a complete understanding of the film beyond its importance as an Akira Kurosawa film.