There is one critic of Japanese literature that towers above the rest: professor John Nathan, erstwhile associate of Yukio Mishima, Kenzaburo Oe and Kobo Abe. But he's not only a respected critic, Nathan's extraordinary career has seen him in the roles of film director, scriptwriter, novelist and memoirist, and his translations of Oe's novels did much to assist that writer on his path to receiving the Nobel Prize in 1994.

Now aged 75 and living in Santa Barbara, California, Nathan has a long career to look back on. I ask him about his early days in Japan in the 1960s and '70s, his role in helping to establish the reputations of many important Japanese writers in the West and, of course, the Nobel Prize.

Some suspect that in order to win the prize, translators and publishers have to woo the Nobel Committee on behalf of their author. I was surprised to discover that Nathan had hardly been in contact with Oe in the decade before the award was announced.