Project Pitch: Feminist Interventions: Designing Descriptive Markup for the Japanese Women Directors Project

No language barriers!
A good opportunity to learn and practice TEI/XML together!
Contribute to an existing project and the fields of cinema studies, feminist DH, multilingual DH!

Asian women’s images in the film industry have long been filtered through a Western male gaze and thus have been historically objectified as exotic and fetish beauties. Asian women filmmakers’ efforts also do not receive the same attention in a male-dominated film culture of auteurism. However, within the past few years, we have seen rising Asian women directors in the industry and their films gaining recognition. This project represents a step in the new direction of cinema feminist interventions. The primary objective of this project is to create a structured and organized database of Japanese women directors encoded by XML (Extensive Markup Language), making it easier to search and retrieve specific pieces of information on relevant subjects in their lives and works, such as education, employment, production, network, and social work. This project belongs to Phase 2 of the JWDP (The Japanese Women Directors Project), which seeks to enhance the accessibility and usability of our resources for scholars, educators, students, and the public. Unlike other TEI (Text Encoding Initiative) projects that annotate and store the structural elements in preexisting textual materials, our project is experimental to the extent that we are encoding research writings that we are currently making. The result of this project contributes to Phase 3 of the JWDP, which delivers our born-digital encoded content through a searchable database.

When we use the words “Japanese” and “women” to identify our research targets, we are referring to all directors self-identified as women, including Japanese women working outside Japan and non-Japanese women working in Japan. The JWDP has made significant progress in its Phase 1 on creating/publishing video interviews with scholars researching Japanese women filmmakers, collecting extensive materials on Japanese women directors’ profiles, and assembling a team of cinema specialists to execute the outreach plan to engage the public. The first trial of this project will be very specialized, covering a range of ten to fifteen Japanese women directors who make live-action narrative films. We hope to monitor the trial’s progress and expand the scope in a later stage to include women working on other genres, such as animation, documentaries, and experimental films.

Director list for the project

Director list


  • Please see the director list on the left. I hope to choose directors from the list with our potential team members. Although some materials are written in Japanese, most data have been collected and translated into English by previous efforts by the JWDP team and others. Also, for example, Naomi Kawase, Mika Ninagawa, and Miwa Nishikawa are very active in the international film market.
  • I hope to include Japanese-American women directors as a focus for this course project. For example, we can explore works by Ruth Ozeki, Rea Tajiri, and Kayo Hatta together.

This project’s significant source of inspiration is DH initiatives that began in the SGML period. Find more information: Orlando: Women’s Writing in the British Isles from the Beginnings to the Present; Women Writer’s Online (WWO);WWP Lab;Women Film Pioneers Project

This project mainly stays at a textual level and limits its scope to organizing and producing textual entries and only uses XML elements/attributes, such as <mov> and <sound>, to encode video and audio materials’ metadata. Tools in MMIR (multimedia information retrieval) are beyond the scope of this project. But if any members are interested in MMIR, any new ideas are welcomed. 


TEI: Founded in 1987, the Text Encoding Initiative (TEI) is a consortium that maintains and develops guidelines for encoding digital texts in the humanities. The current TEI guidelines provide a set of standardized XML rules and tags, known as TEI P5, for organizing and representing data in a structured framework. The TEI is also a community in which members in this community work on the improvement of the guidelines every year to address issues regarding non-hierarchical elements, overlapping hierarchies, normative bias, and ill-formed XML.

XML: XML uses tags to mark different elements in a document to produce both human-readable and machine-readable texts and is used widely in scholarly editing, manuscript transcribing, and computational text analysis. For example, for the women director profile pages, here is a minimal XML document encoding three directors’ names and birth years.
The start tag (e.g., <director>) marks the point in the sequence that an element starts, and the element closes with the end tag (e.g., </director>). We can also add attributes to the document. Here attribute values are specified for the <directorsList> element through the attributes xml: id and status. Later an XML processor can recognize this <directorList> as a draft instead of the final version, and the “list1” could label its element occurrence for later cross-reference works.

XML example

A minimal XML example

DTD: A Document Type Definition (DTD) is a set of rules that define the structure of an XML file. A well-formed XML document does not require a DTD and can just follow common rules but creating a DTD can ensure the integrity and consistency of the XML document. Our project will define elements, attributes, relationships, and constraints to customize the DTDs to give interpretive information in greater detail. Our project is a digital experiment searching for methods to create research-based DTD (Document Type Definition)  that contain critical and interpretative tags generated by our research group, aligned with the structural tags officially recognized and produced by the TEI. Here is an example of the DTD we create to instruct the XML encoding in our project,


An example of the DTD

In this example, the DTD is defined within the DOCTYPE declaration. The DTD specifies that the document’s root element is <directors>. The root element can contain one or more <director> elements. Each <director> element must have an id attribute and can contain a <name>, a <birthyear>, a <films>, and an optional <awards> element. We then extract our markup directly from writing biographical sketches of Japanese women directors, transcribing/translating the interviews they receive, and editing scholarly writings on them. As a result, our tags not only deliver bio details on birth, name, family, education, and significant life events but also marks the contextual information on their career paths, such as team, co-worker, award, organization, company, funding, social movement, dual profession, etc. The final step (possibly will be started at end of phase 2 and remains a major task of phase 3) is to build a delivery system using XSLT, Java-related technologies, and Apache Tomcat that allows users to search and navigate the data we create.

Goals and outcomes:
The ultimate goal of this project is to build a searchable database and open the encoded data we create to the public. I also hope all potential members could learn and practice TEI/XML tools. The JWDP team is committed to releasing the encoded data of the first trial under the Creative Commons CC BY 4.0 License on its platform and through GitHub to allow the public to use, distribute, and build upon the project freely. We will also share our TEI/XML training materials by making a virtual workshop section on our website and encourage the modification of our tagsets and DTD by potential users.

For the work plan in the Spring semester, the main tasks will be research and writing on Japanese women directors, the DTD and tagsets building, and the XML encoding. All potential members will join the team to brainstorm appropriate tagsets to process the JWDP data and custom-design the XML tagsets and the DTDs. The project lead is responsible for writing the explanations of each tag with examples for the training session in TEI/XML.

  • We aim to create a playground of DH aspects in Japanese women’s history and film studies for the public to support knowledge production and dissemination. The interface language and the primary language for displaying data are English.
  • Instructors in the film studies programs could use the JWDP searching feature to prepare teaching materials on women filmmakers of color to update their syllabi. Students in film studies, area studies, and digital humanities could use the database to search for information on non-white/US-based women directors.
  • Students will be able to extract the set of linked open data and apply computational methods to make network graphs, geospatial maps, and data visualizations. The database structure allows them to look into micro-level contextualized materials on these women’s lives and works and analyze macro-level trends outside established canons.
  • Our goal to create feminist interventions in digital archives is inspired by Jacqueline Wernimont’s argument for an approach of feminist text encoding as political tools to present works done by marginalized groups; the idea of working on non-English speaking background materials is from Alan Liu’s suggestion on building multilingual digital humanities (DH) to “create a digitally tractable, extensible taxonomy of diversity” through building new database and renewing protocols.

Tentative team design:
Project and Research Lead: Miaoling Xue will serve as the project and research lead, monitoring the overall progress of the project, including team coordination, workflow/deadline management, and research progress.
Research and Metadata Coordinators: Classmate A/B/C will be the co-lead responsible for writing, categorizing and sorting data and working with the lead to do the team training in XML
Content Specialists: Graduate students in Japanese studies (UBC), researching women directors’ profiles, translating materials into English
Programmer: TBD, assisting in validating and delivering the XML file, testing the trial result using XSLT, Java-related technologies, and Apache Tomcat
Copy Editor: TBD

Consultant on TEI (Text Encoding Initiative): Filipa Calado
Consultants on Japanese Cinema and Popular Culture: Colleen Laird (UBC), Catherine Munroe Hotes (KeioSFC/hosei_gis)

Further readings:
Liu, Alan. “Toward a Diversity Stack: Digital Humanities and Diversity as Technical Problem.”
PMLA 135.1 (2020): 130–151.
The TEI Consortium. “TEI P5: Guidelines for Electronic Text Encoding and Interchange.” Last updated October 25, 2022.
Wernimont, Jacqueline. “Whence Feminism? Assessing Feminist Interventions in Digital Literary Archives.” Digital Humanities Quarterly 7, no. 1 (2013).


10 thoughts on “Project Pitch: Feminist Interventions: Designing Descriptive Markup for the Japanese Women Directors Project

  1. Elizabeth Szypulski (She/her)

    Hi Miaoling,

    Thank you for providing such a detailed description of the project, including where it is now, how the different participants can contribute, and what you hope to achieve in the future.

    Like Bret mentioned in class, this seems like a great opportunity for participants to see what an ambitious, established project looks like from the inside. The flip side, though, might be that any individual contributors might have a smaller role to play in decision-making, influence over the project, etc. than they would in some of the newer projects being pitched. Can you share more about the team training, the types of choices that might go into determining the tagsets, and any other aspects where team members might be able to exercise judgment and leave a mark on the project?

    Also, do you anticipate part or all of the database being publicly available by May? I know this spring’s work is part of the larger project, but I’m curious about what the team will share at the showcase.

    I’m excited to see this project in its finished state! Even just looking through the names makes me realize how little I know about Japanese women directors — I love the idea of getting to learn more about Japanese cinema (and getting some viewing suggestions) through either the final product or by participating in this project.

    1. Miaoling Xue (She/Her/Hers) Post author

      Hi Elizabeth, thank you for the comments and great questions. Regarding team training, I would like to organize workshops to learn, practice, and criticize the current TEI/XML encoding rules. For example, in early 2022, a group of scholars collaborated to add new content to the TEI guidelines on how to tag sex and gender data inspired by Gayle Rubin’s theory of sex/gender systems.
      For more details, see the TEI Consortium, “TEI P5 version 4.5.0 and Stylesheets version 7.54.0 release notes,” accessed December 22, 2022,
      Elisa Beshero-Bondar, Raffaele Viglianti, Helena Bermúdez Sabel, and Janelle Jenstad, “Revising Sex and Gender in the TEI Guidelines,” accessed December 22, 2022,
      I was surprised to know that this update was just released in 2022. So our work is about learning how to do text encoding and further contributing to the current rules by raising questions in our practices. Team members would brainstorm new tagsets, design DTDs, and write articles on the rationale behind new tags. The Orlando project inspired me, and I would suggest we start with reviewing their tagsets and the process their team did the design.
      I gave an example of tags in the reply to Maria: For example, I was thinking about tags like “rejection,” in which we could trace the story that a woman director was unable to secure sufficient funding to release a feature-length film.
      Our team members would read about these women, search for information, and find connections (especially the invisible ones) together. I would say these contributions are potential footprints.
      I am not 100% sure if we could present a high-functioning database in May, but I am confident that we could finish a package of feminist and cinema TEI/XML training for a virtual workshop-format session on our website. Every team member would have the chance to write about their experiences. We could also release a trial of the searchable database by May and explain how this method could be applied to a broader range of data.
      And I am totally open to other options. This is just my initial idea.

  2. Maria F. Buitrago (she/hers)

    Miaoling! Thanks so much for the detailed description. Sounds like a fascinating project. I think the skills that one can learn here can then be easily applied to other projects or capstones! So I think that’s extremely valuable and doing it with a team of dedicated experts that have already envisioned the project seems like a great opportunity. I did some brief XML encoding at some point in life…would love to do it again and learn about Japanese Cinema and Women Directors! are you familiar with the non-profit Women Make Movies?: – They have a very interesting curation of films by female directors. On another note, I would like to hear more on why is the data collected labeled as a feminist approach, like how is that integrated in to the tagset you are using, I would like to hear more on the topic and why the contextual information that will be marked up about the directors is feminist?
    Congrats on a great project!

    1. Miaoling Xue (She/Her/Hers) Post author

      Thank you, Maria, for the comments! Yes, I looked at the WMM site while preparing the proposal. They did a great job introducing films made by women. My project aims to add more women directors from non-English backgrounds and examines not only the films done by women but also their career paths, training, family, social network, funding, etc. The feminist approach locates in the way we design the tagsets. For example, I was thinking about tags like “rejection,” in which we could trace the story that a woman director was unable to secure sufficient funding to release a feature-length film. I would like to argue through the tags that women’s voices are everywhere and sometimes invisible if we only pay attention to the outcomes. But definitely, this approach does not mean we are excluding male directors. For example, through “family” or “co-worker,” we could map a family-social network of the woman and unfold stories behind the scenes.

    1. Miaoling Xue (She/Her/Hers) Post author

      Thank you, Kristy. You pointed out an important question regarding how people in the US get to know about the Asian film industry. Hope we can introduce more works done by women, their struggles, and their successes to the world.

  3. Gemma S.

    What a project Miaoling! I fully agree on the need for documenting these directors’ lives and careers, their struggles, and what it took to get where they are today. This is undoubtedly the part that attracts me the most: researching the women behind the filmmakers!
    I hope it’s not a banal question to ask, but are these film directors contemporary? If so, are they aware of the project / are you and your team in contact with them? I could see some interviews in phase 1, but, if I am not mistaken, they are with experts in the field?

    1. Gemma S.

      One more thing; do you think this project and the team’s modus operandi could be replicated for other countries/languages? I see a huge potential there, perhaps this option could be explored in the future?

    2. Miaoling Xue (She/Her/Hers) Post author

      Hi Gemma, thanks for the questions! Yes, the directors in my list are all contemporary. There are other projects tracking what we call “women film pioneers.” The phase 1 is about interviewing cinema scholars working on Japan. I haven’t reached out to the directors themselves but it is good idea to go to some film festivals together and make connections. The model could definitely be applied to other countries/languages. I will explain the workshop/training materials in my pitch today.

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