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By Phil Hall | June 4, 2002

“Ghost Sweeper Mikami” is a 55-minute anime feature originally presented in 1994 as the final episode of the long-running Japanese television program of the same name. It seems fairly strange that it would take eight years for this highly entertaining production to make its way across the Pacific, but in this case we should be grateful that its American release is better late than never.

The eponymous heroine of “Ghost Sweeper Mikami” is a highly successful ghostbuster/exorcist who runs an independent agency that sweeps away the ectoplasmic nasties who haunt Tokyo. The buxom, red-haired Mikami is very much a woman of the go-go 1990s when it comes to accounts receivable, at one point commenting bitterly about a ghoulish foe: “I won’t live in a world where I can’t make a profit, and this guy’s bad for business.” Mikami’s staff consists of a motley bunch including the cowardly Yokishima (who is tied up to a flagpole as a bait for wandering ghosts), a mysterious blue-haired girl who floats through the air, a humorless priest who destroys ghosts with Billy Graham-worthy recitations from the Gospels, and a blonde dude who may or may not of vampiric heritage (the film is a bit vague on his roots and talents). However, Mikami is clearly the brains and brawn of the operation, knocking down her otherworldly opponents with the same vigor and enthusiasm that she tallies her earnings (the latter effort causes the priest to comment sourly: “She has a bad case of yen on the brain”).

Into this unlikely world comes the spirit of a 17th century samurai, who presents Mikami with a special lance designed to kill the resurrection of a Nosferatu who recently came back from the dead with the intention of taking over Japan. The behemothic Nosferatu, assisted by a white spider transformed into a pale assassin with arachnoid powers that make Spider-Man look like a horsefly, run amok and begin to upset Japanese capital by turning many of its inhabitants into flesh-eating zombies. Mikami, aided primarily by the samurai’s spirit (most of her team are trapped in a hospital overrun by zombies) takes on the Nosferatu in a spectacular battle that hops across the Tokyo skyline.

Admittedly, this is a great deal to pack in less than hour’s running time and “Ghost Sweeper Mikami” moves at breakneck speed to accommodate its wild plotline and bizarre characters; at certain times, this is not so much a movie as it is an adrenaline rush. The film is also blessed with wild over-the-top visual comedy and sarcastic humor that pokes fun at the excessive nature of both anime and science-fiction. Characters gets sliced, smacked, blown up, yelled at, and tormented with a fury that swings from manic to outlandish. At one point in the frenetic ebb and flow, Mikami pauses to observe her career landscape and wonders with mild confusion: “I don’t know why, but it feels like evil spirits are getting more powerful these days.”

At times, however, the film offers too much of a good thing. A pair of rival exorcists abruptly appear in mid-film to challenge Mikami’s pre-eminence, including one with the priceless moniker of Dr. Chaos, but they are quickly dispatched before their personalities can be established and their appearances ultimately make little sense. The aforementioned hospital which comes under zombie attack provides care to both humans and bizarre animals, though the latter creatures are never identified in any way. Perhaps it would help to be familiar with the television series from which the film is based, or at least the popular manga which was the original source of Mikami’s adventures, to understand some of the situations here.

Furthermore, it should be noted the animation here is not among the most challenging or imaginative. Even by the standards of television anime, “Ghost Sweeper Mikami” is often stiff and functional, with only a rare leap into the eye-catching (most notably the wild climactic fight). However, the film’s wit compensates for whatever shortcomings are evident in the animation, and “Ghost Sweeper Mikami” is a truly the one to call for busting up ghosts.

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