Go in the Right Direction — A Presentation Lesson from Akira Kurosawa: Guest Post by Jerry Weissman

Created: Wednesday, July 27, 2011, posted by Geetesh Bajaj at 4:30 am



During his long and distinguished career, the great Japanese filmmaker Akira Kurosawa pioneered many innovative cinematic techniques that are applicable to today’s presentation graphics. One is Mr. Kurosawa’s creative use of the Wipe, a filmic transition between scenes in which a new image slides across an existing image and replaces it—like a curtain being drawn across the screen.

In today’s fast-cut action films, the Wipe has fallen out of favor, but the effect is very useful in presentations where fast cuts can be jarring to an audience. More about speeds in a moment, but first let’s look at how Mr. Kurosawa used Wipes in his 1952 film, Ikiru.

Ikiru, which means “to live” in Japanese, is a story about a man dying of terminal cancer, and was inspired by The Death of Ivan Ilyich, a novel by Leo Tolstoy. Two current films, Biutiful and Beginners, deal with the same personal subject, but Mr. Kurosawa provided an extra dimension to his film by adding social commentary—and expressing his point of view with the Wipe effect.

The leading character in Ikiru is a career civil servant in post-World War II Japan where stultifying bureaucracy was weighing heavily on a Japanese society trying to recover and stabilize. To illustrate that situation, a group of mothers shows up at a government office to lodge a complaint about a sewage pond in their neighborhood, but the bureaucrats duck their responsibility by sending the mothers to another office, and then to another, and another, giving them the runaround.

Mr. Kurosawa depicts the runaround in a montage of 16 very short scenes, transitioning from one office to another with the Wipe effect. The first nine Wipes alternate left and right, but the last seven all move to the left. In an earlier post you read that, because audiences “read from left to right, you should design, animate, and display your presentation graphics so that—depending on the message you want to convey—your graphics follow or fight that predisposition. Movement to the right creates positive perceptions, movement to the left negative.”

In Ikiru, the crescendo of leftward moves builds to create a negative perception of the bureaucrats. Film historian Stephen Prince, who provided the commentary track on the Criterion Collection version of the film, called the montage “an assembly which is basically a Rogues’ Gallery of scoundrels.”

The lesson for presenters is, if you want to send a negative message, for instance, to discuss your competition, use the Wipe Left transition in PowerPoint. But if you want to create a positive perception of your own company, use the Wipe Right.

Now for a note about speed: In all the versions of PowerPoint prior to 2010, the Wipe Right transition was done with a hard edge and at a fast speed, creating that curtain-across-the-screen effect. In the 2010 version, the default for the Wipe Right transition is with a soft edge at a slower speed, creating the effect of a dissolve, and slowing down the transition. I am not recommending that you revert to the machine gun cutting that most of our movies use today; instead, use the Wipe Right as your preferred transition, but change the speed from the default of one second to a quarter of a second.

Give your audiences positive perceptions, not a Rogues’ Gallery of scoundrels.

Jerry Weissman is among the world’s foremost corporate presentations coaches. His private client list reads like a who’s who of the world’s best companies, including the top brass at Yahoo!, Intel, Intuit, Cisco Systems, Microsoft, Netflix and many others.Jerry founded Power Presentations, Ltd. in 1988. One of his earliest efforts was the Cisco Systems IPO road show. Following its successful launch, Don Valentine, of Sequoia Capital, and then chairman of Cisco’s Board of Directors, attributed “at least two to three dollars” of the offering price to Jerry’s coaching. That endorsement led to more than 500 other IPO road show presentations that have raised hundreds of billions of dollars in the stock market.Categories: guest_post, opinion, powerpoint, transitions

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3 Comments

  • j

    Hi there,

    I believe it should be "Akira Kurosawa", not "Akiro"…

  • J, thank you so much — this has been updated.

  • I think it is quite a stretch to claim that Kurosawa did that to reinforce negative perceptions of those characters. The direction left to right does not necessarily hold any negative connotations for Asian audiences, as traditional Japanese as well as traditional Chinese was written top to bottom, and right to left. But that point pretty much negates the entire existence of your article.

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