Here’s the question:
I wanted to answer this question because:
(1) There is a big difference between movies and drama and more so on the Japanese scene – I’d like to expound on this later;
(2) The question is quite relevant and timely since there is a new season, and J-Dorama just put the figure at 38 new Fall 2016 shows!
For the record in 2016, we have the following:
Winter 2016 – 27: Tokyo Sentimental, MARS, and Love That Makes You Cry;
Spring 2016 – 38: Dias Police, Juhan Shuttai!, Toto Nee-chan, Yutori Desu ga Nani ka and Hibana (Sparks);
Summer 2016 – 29: HOPE, Aogeba Totoshi, Suki na Hito ga Iru Koto, Toki wo Kakeru Shoujo, Suizokukan Girl and Koe Koi.
That makes 132 productions for 2016.
As I said, the question is a bit tricky (or confused) since dramas are quite different from movies and the question posed to recommend particular Japanese movies as a way of introduction.
JDoramas are TV series with about 10 to 12 episodes shown every week. It would be hard to relate them to movies since Japanese films are mostly one-time affair (or two if there is a sequel). As far as I know, Japanese filmmakers like Sion Sono, Naomi Kawase, Hirokazu Koreeda, and Takashi Miike don’t venture into JDorama.
There is one particular Japanese filmmaker – Ryosuke Hashiguchi. He also never made any drama shows, and he’s been doing movies since 1989.
I put emphasis on these filmmakers because TV drama directors in Japan could never compete with them.
In the West, drama shows or TV productions have become massive investments with equally huge audience share. Take, for instance, Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead. In Japan, doramas are light entertainment with sub-par production values. Out of 30 shows, you would be lucky to watch 2 or 3 good ones.
Highly recommended Japanese movies for beginners [ movies above (from top) : Yuki Furukawa and Shotaro Mamiya in Litchi Hikari Club, the amazing Hana Sugisaki in Pieta on the Toilet, and Fumi Nikaido in Misono Universe ]
It is more relevant to compare anime to live action adaptation since most anime (or manga for that matter) become movies. Some of the latest Japanese movies adapted from manga are Chihayafuru, Attack on Titan, Wolf Girl and Black Prince, Orange and Bakuman.Popular JDoramas are mostly medical drama, political thrillers, detectives, school/ slice of life, family drama, supernatural, etc. There are certain dramas which became familiar to local TV audience and they get their SP (movie made for television) which are usually a condensed version of the TV series. The best example is Rich Man, Poor Woman (starring Shun Oguri).
For me who prefers to concentrate on Japanese films and anime, dramas are just a means to appreciate up and coming actors – watch them play raw and rough. Most of the actors I’ve seen first in drama productions failed to impress me, but there are also many who have shown great potentials.
My final advice – thread carefully when you enter the Japanese drama scene – the over-acting can be suffocating and a big turn-off, but there are certain cases when the said “over” performance can be a good dosage of fun and amusement.