Actress Kaoru Yachigusa, who rose to prominence with her role in Oscar-winning film "Samurai, The Legend of Musashi" and starred in a number of major movies and TV dramas, died last Thursday of pancreatic cancer at a Tokyo hospital, her office said. She was 88.

The native of Osaka whose real name was Hitomi Taniguchi, announced in February she had cancer and was undergoing treatment.

Yachigusa, who started her career in the all-women Takarazuka Revue, gained popularity through her role as Otsu in the 1954 film"Miyamoto Musashi," which featured Toshiro Mifune as the swordsman Musashi. The film won the Honorary Foreign Language Film Award at the Oscars in 1956.

She appeared in a number of other films, including the Japanese-Italian musical "Madame Butterfly" and "Yukiguni."

Often portraying gentle and obedient characters in Japanese TV dramas, she was seen as an ideal mother figure. But she opened a new frontier with the 1977 TV drama "Kishibe no Arubamu" ("An Album on the Shore"), playing a wife having an affair.

She was married to film director Senkichi Taniguchi, who died in 2007 of aspiration pneumonia. They married in 1957.

She was decorated with the Medal with Purple Ribbon in 1997 and the Order of the Rising Sun, Gold Rays with Rosette in 2003.