Ghost Sweeper Mikami: The Movie

There's one nice thing about good anime comedy: it doesn't age. In the West, we tend to be obsessed with comedy that is high on immediate cultural references; David Letterman and Jay Leno are the comedians many of us see every day, and their bread and butter is the topical monologue. But go back even ten years and the "up-to-the-minute" jokes from that era are now lifeless, dated, passe or even outre. Now this kind of comedy exists in anime as well; one only need look at PaniPoni Dash! to see a show loaded with similar cultural references. But the funniest material relies on universal (and often physical) humor...the pratfall, the unexpected, the exaggerated, and the unintended. This is why, despite an aging print, dull spots, and a lack of character development, Ghost Sweeper Mikami: The Movie is still watchable even today. This tale of a modern-day exorcist and her team of crack spiritbusters is good for a laugh, if not a purchase.

Our title character, Reiko Mikami, is a Scrooge of the utmost order. While she pulls in millions of yen for her ability to stop the undead (and mostly dead) in their tracks, she pays her gopher and "ghost bait" assistant Yokoshima barely enough to buy a can of soda! Nevertheless, the twosome happily work with a crew of various spiritualists who have abilities to deal with the otherworld, from the rogue priest Father Karasu to the half-vampire Peat. Their latest mission, however, may be the death of them all. Nobunaga -- yes, that Nobunaga that you've heard so much about from Japanese history -- has come through time as a devilish Nosferatu with his arachnid companion Ranmaru collecting enough blood for him to take over Tokyo (and then...THE WORLD!! Insert ridiculous laugh here.) Mitsuhide, a disgraced warrior who defeated Nobunaga ages ago, is now a ghost who sends a special lance through time to Mikami in order to stop Nobunaga again. Of course, Mikami wants to sell the lance for a humongous profit, but when she learns that the Vatican has put an enormous price tag on Nobunaga's head, she figures she can make some dough that way, too. And as Nobunaga learns, never get inbetween a ghost sweeper and her hard-earned cash!

Even for a movie with a 1994 pedigree, Ghost Sweeper Mikami looks quite old. Although the artistic style reflects the era, the print is in terribly washed-out condition, and that's not the only thing wrong with Manga's DVD release of the film. Taking a listen between the Japanese and English tracks, it's clear that this is a dubtitle. (While I don't know a lot of Japanese, when Yokoshima cries out "Gomen nasai," or "I'm very sorry," and the subtitles and dub said, "Somebody help me," I knew there was a problem.) While the English track is in 5.1 and the Japanese only in mono, a brief look at the credits and a close listen show that the soundtrack has also been changed a good deal. I'm not sure if the musical elements were still around for a 5.1 mix, but regardless of why they did it, they rescored the English version with music by Americans. Even with the dubtitle, I'd stick with the original Japanese.

The Anime Encyclopedia notes that Ghost Sweeper Mikami was originally a television series that run for around 40-some episodes. This explains why the film expects that we already know the main characters and spends little time introducing them. It also gives us reasons for certain cameos by other exorcists who really serve no purpose other than to show up. While this would be a deal-breaker for many films, the duo of Mikami and Yokoshima are front and center the majority of the time, and so we don't lose track of them amongst all the others. The biggest problem of the film is that the plot is too flimsy to support a 50+ minute running time.  As such, the inevitable finale with Nobunaga runs way too long and is actually upstaged by the far better choreographed battle with Ranmaru. With a little trimming, the ending could have been far more exciting than it actually is. Of course, what would really have made the film better would have been some character development. Sadly, Ghost Sweeper Mikami: The Movie is so interested in getting these TV characters onto the big screen that it forgets that it might be poignant for those characters to actually go through a life change or two along the way. (The cynical critic rears his head.)

So why is this film still worth a rental?  Because it really is a lot of fun. Yokoshima is a riot much of the time he's on screen, and while he's not terribly different from many of the other lecherous losers in the anime canon, he is consistenly funny without being annoying or perverse. Mikami is surprisingly unlikable as a main character, so it's through Yokoshima that we really enjoy the film. (And since he's really useless except as a lure, he gives a human perspective to it all.) While you may have seen this kind of silly material done better in Phantom Quest Corporation, this is still amusing in its own way. And despite the annoying Mikami, the other characters are still fun to watch. Even Father Karasu earns points; while he may not use any true rites of exorcism, it's cool that he actually says things a Christian priest might say. (Maybe he's Episcopalian??)

At any rate, Ghost Sweeper Mikami: The Movie is worth picking up through Netflix or Peerflix if you have the inclination. No, I wouldn't probably watch it more than once, but I enjoyed it the first time around.

Ghost Sweeper Mikami: The Movie -- violence, occult concepts -- B