Dear Sky Bones (and, really, anyone else who has input),
I'm looking for some good Japanese movies/TV shows. Do you have any suggestions? Don't really want anime, but if you know of any REALLY GOOD ONES THAT I HAVE TO SEE, please share. I have seen (and own and love) Heavenly Forest and Nobody Knows. As far as anime goes that I DO like, I have (and love) Grave of the Fireflies, as well as Last Exile. (If you notice the trend of people dying.... Yeah. But I'm good with happy/humorous things, too!)
My brother, who introduced me to The Last Exile (which I enjoyed), recommends any film by Hiyao Miyazaki (I'll second that as I've seen a few of his films which are fantastic). He also recommends the tv series Moriboto and Full Metal Alchemist.
What an excellent question! I have little interest in manga and often its subsequent TV series, so I can't really help you out there (which you seem to be fine with anyway). Most other Japanese TV shows are melodramatic soap operas that are often too much to handle. Typically, I find the only things worth watching on TV (and this is only on rare occasion) are the game shows and cooking channels (but even those can get a bit... disturbing).
I will definitely second Humble Master's brother in nominating all of Hayao Miyazaki's animated films. He has amazing storytelling abilities. I particularly recommend My Neighbor Totoro (it's quite cute, so it might not be quite your style but I absolutely adore it), Princess Mononoke, Spirited Away, and Howl's Moving Castle.
As for live-action Japanese films, there is one name you must always remember: Akira Kurosawa. He is considered to be one of the greatest, most influential filmmakers of all time. Of the thirty films he directed during his life, I particularly recommend the following: Rashomon, Ikiru, Seven Samurai, Throne of Blood, Ran, and Dreams. Each of these movies not only has an amazing story, but also has the potential to change your life.
As I thought about your question, there were a few other Japanese films that stood out in my mind that I would highly recommend to just about everyone. They are: The Twilight Samurai, Ugetsu, Tokyo Story, The Makioka Sisters, and of course, Gojira. All of these movies are fantastic and you should definitely check them out. Hope you enjoy them!
I asked my friend Kid B (who has much more expertise than he's letting on in this answer), and here's what he had to say:
It’s a challenge to make recommendations for “must see” flicks, because people’s tastes are so varied. But I’ve studied a bit of film and a bit of Japanese, so here goes. These are definitely colored by my background and interests, though, so feel free to take them with a grain of salt.
For television, the primetime Fuji Television dramas can be a fun romp. They’re all pretty hokey, but some of them really suck you in. And if you want something more big-C cultural, NHK has been making historical dramas since the 1960s, and continues to do so now. They’re worth checking out if you ever have the opportunity.
On the whole, though, if you want something really worth watching, I’d focus more on film, especially the older directors who established the tradition of Japanese cinema. Yasujiro Ozu is one of them, and “Tokyo Story” is one of his more famous works. Enjoying his films requires a degree of patience and subtlety not common in the 21st Century West (or Japan, for that matter), so they’re not for everyone. But they are quite beautiful and moving, if you’re in the right mood.
Akira Kurosawa is another quintessential Japanese director, and my personal favorite. His films are accessible, and usually feature Western-friendly storytelling. But they’re still contemplative and loaded with fodder for analysis. They come in a variety of genres, from film-noir crime stories to samurai epics, to modern slice-of-life dramas. My top choices would be: “Ikiru,” “Rashomon,” and “Seven Samurai.” If you want some artsy, cerebral stuff, check out Kurosawa’s “Dreams.” It was the first Japanese film I ever saw, and the first BYU International Cinema film I ever went to. It’s still one of my favorites.
As far as newer titles go, I rather liked “After Life” by Koreeda. That’s the same director as “Nobody Knows,” so you may be particularly interested in that one. Also “Twilight Samurai” by Yamada. Takeshi Kitano (aka “Beat” Takeshi) has quite a cult following, and some interesting films, but many of them are a bit explicit for most BYU audiences. His film “Kikujiro” is an exception, though, and is more of a comedic/sentimental story that you may enjoy.
I’ve tried to avoid suggesting anything with content that most people would find patently offensive, but of course your mileage may vary. Definitely check out the ratings and such beforehand if you’re at all concerned. In any case, there are a lot of great Japanese films, both classic and modern, so have fun exploring!
There you go. I don't have much experience with Japanese film, but I did see Barefoot Gen at International Cinema last semester. It was good, but my was it ever intense (don't let the first half-hour fool you). Then again, you seem to like depressing stuff, so I'd recommend it!