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Ghost Sweeper Mikami (1993)

Directed by:

Atsutoshi Umezawa

Jean Becker

Rating: 6/10

Running Time: 60 minutes

UK Certificate: PG

On DVD

Country: Japan, France

Mikami Reiko is a ghost sweeper with a difference. Powerful, but motivated only by personal gain, she runs an outfit of exorcists – flying ex-ghost Okinu, sex-mad spirit-magnet Yokoshima, half-vampire Peat, and bible-toting Father Karasu (named after Father Damien Karras from 'The Exorcist') – who together make a tidy profit (which mostly ends up in Mikami's own pocket) banishing ghosts from earth. Yet when the spirit of a samurai exorcist who four hundred years earlier had ended the dark reign of Nosferatu asks Mikami to prevent the evil vampire's resurrection, Mikami accidentally revives Nosferatu instead. In no time at all Nosferatu has turned Tokyo's populace into rampaging zombies, and, with the help of his faithful arachnid familiar Ranmaru, ensnared most of the city's exorcists – and it seems that Mikami will need something more than her usual venal greed to save the world.

A feature-length adaptation of a popular animated TV series, 'Ghost Sweeper Mikami' could be dismissed as just another example of the kind of bland bubblegum animé so popular with Japanese teenage girls, were it not for its prominent 'Simpsons'-like postmodernism. When it is not parodying 'Ghostbusters', 'The Exorcist' and the clichés of vampire movies (this Nosferatu gorges on garlic, and wears both crucifixes and even silver bullets round his neck), its characters are engaging in knowing metacinematic commentary (one exorcist, imprisoned by Nosferatu, expresses the hope that “this doesn't mean they don't need us for the rest of the movie”, while Yokoshima declares in the middle of a fight “you think this is great, you should see it in widescreen”).

Mikami herself represents a refreshing alternative to the sort of doe-eyed, anodyne passivity normally found in manga's female characters. Taking orders from no-one, rude to everyone, regularly beating up her male sidekick Yokoshima, and galvanising herself into action only when there is money to be made, Mikami makes a delightfully cynical anti-heroine.

The film's emphasis is firmly on the goofball comedy, but there are also some impressive fight sequences – in particular the surprisingly poetic duel between Mikami and Ranmaru on a giant web (accompanied by traditional Japanese music, with Nosferatu on vocals). Add to this the surreal spectacle of Tokyo overrun by zombies, and a wicked bloodsucker with an equally wicked sense of humour, and you have a fun, inventive cartoon for kids which never patronises with sanctimonious values, but which still, unlike the bi-cardial villain Nosferatu, has its heart in the right place.

It's Got: : Laughs, action, kid-friendly horror, a mercenary and self-centred anti-heroine, lots of strange spirits and ghosts, and the line "The Pope has confirmed that the man in the samurai costume is the Nosferatu".

It Needs: To be avoided by adults.

DVD Extras Scene selection; choice of Japanese 2.0/English 2.0/English 5.1; optional English subtitles; Meet your Exorcists, notes offering useful (if hardly essential) background synopses of the different exorcists featured in the film, for those unfamiliar with the TV series; photogallery; trailer; two Manga trailer reels. DVD Extras Rating: 4/10

Alternatives:

Ghostbusters, I Spit On Your Grave, Manon des Sources, Rashomon, Scooby-Doo, Vampire Hunter D

Summary

Likeable supernatural comedy for kids, with a ghostbusting heroine more interested in the material than the spiritual.

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